Everyone—Including Survivors of Domestic Violence—Needs Safe Housing

by Peg Hacskaylo, founder and CEO of the District Alliance for Safe Housing

Around the country, there is a growing understanding that survivors of domestic violence often need more than emergency shelter to become safe from violence and establish stable homes. Communities are employing innovative strategies and practices that help address survivors’ unique situations, such as flexible funding and domestic violence rapid re-housing. This momentum is matched by increasing resources from federal, state, and local funders interested in supporting safe housing solutions. But until stakeholders recognize the extent of the need for safe housing, many survivors will continue facing barriers to housing and options for safety.

The Domestic Violence and Housing Technical Assistance Consortium (DVHTAC) brings together national, state, and local organizations with expertise on housing and gender-based violence to help housing, homeless, and victim service providers increase safe housing options for survivors. It works with community-based providers and national-level researchers and advocates to increase communities’ capacity to serve these groups and remove barriers to safe housing for those in need. The DVHTAC supports and highlights innovative safe housing approaches through training, technical assistance, and resource development at the critical intersection of domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness, and housing. It is funded by an unprecedented partnership between the US Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice and with support from the US Interagency Council on Homelessness.

This partnership highlights the value of inclusive and collaborative approaches to safe housing. As the examples below show, safe housing is needed more widely than previously thought. Safe housing matters for people of color and LGBTQIA people, and its value extends to survivors of sexual assault and human trafficking, among others.

  • Safe housing for people of color

The DVHTAC is partnering with researchers from the Center for Social Innovation’s SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities) project, who showed, through homeless data analysis, focus groups, and oral histories with people of color experiencing homelessness, that people of color were overrepresented among homeless populations in eight US communities. More than 78 percent of people experiencing homelessness in these communities ages 18 to 24 were people of color, far higher than their representation in the general population. SPARC also learned that gender-based violence was a common thread in the lives of many respondents.

  • Safe housing for survivors of sexual assault

In partnership with sexual assault advocates, DVHTAC has gained insight about the intersection of sexual assault and homelessness and housing instability. Even when an attack occurs outside the survivor’s home, the impact of trauma leads many survivors to feel unsafe and unable to remain in their homes. Given that more than 50 percent of rape or sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occurred within one mile of their home or at their home, this incidence is more common than previously thought. Research from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center showed that one-third of victim service providers reported a substantial share of victims and survivors struggle to find or keep housing because of sexual violence.

  • Safe housing for survivors of human trafficking

DVHTAC sees the need for safe housing among survivors of human trafficking—both sex and labor trafficking—becoming more pronounced as efforts to raise awareness and train service providers, the public, and officials to recognize and address this crime gains traction. Although the exact number of trafficked individuals is unknown because of underidentification and underreporting, a study from the from the University of Pennsylvania and Loyola University New Orleans found that nearly a fifth of homeless youth in the United States and Canada are victims of trafficking. But, as noted by Freedom Network USA, the largest national coalition of experts on human trafficking in the US, shelters and housing programs often screen out survivors of trafficking because of factors that make them ineligible for services, including their victimization status, gender, age, sexual orientation or identity, and immigration status. Labor trafficking survivors are often excluded from shelter and housing programs, which are limited to survivors of intimate partner violence. Additionally, convictions related to the trafficking situation bar many survivors from federally funded housing programs and private landlords (because of background checks).

  • Safe housing for people of all genders and sexual orientations

Once people become homeless, they experience higher rates of violent victimization than those who have access to housing. According to a study of homeless and marginally housed people, 32 percent of women, 27 percent of men, and 38 percent of transgendered people reported physical or sexual victimization in the previous year. Overall, the risks of homelessness and violent victimization are heightened for women, people of color, those who identify as LGBTQIA, runaway youth, people with disabilities, immigrants, and residents in rural areas.

These findings underscore the need to broaden the array of safe housing options, enhance all survivors’ access to such options, and center racial equity in fashioning community solutions. How this is done may look different across communities and will evolve with the addition of new resources, innovations, and understanding. The DVHTAC is committed to making safe housing accessible to survivors as an essential element of a comprehensive community response to homelessness and housing. To improve policies, identify promising practices, and strengthen collaborations that enhance the safety, stability, and well-being of survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families, the DVHTAC will continue to partner with SPARC, NRCDV, Freedom Network, and others. Such partnerships help DVHTAC help local and state providers ensure safe housing is available for everyone who needs it.

For more information about the DVHTAC and the intersection of domestic and sexual violence, homelessness, and housing, go to www.SafeHousingPartnerships.org.

Photo by Fizkes/Shutterstock