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Housing Domestic Violence Survivors

The City Council identified domestic violence as one of our priority issues for 2010.  We acted on that priority in response to the Mayor’s proposed cuts in domestic violence programs in his 2011 budget.  The Council unanimously voted to restore Victim Advocate positions in the Seattle Police Department, and funding for the treatment of indigent batterers in the Human Services Department.

The Council also launched an exploration of how we could more effectively provide for the housing needs of domestic violence survivors.  We sponsored a forum with experts in this area to give us recommendations and start the process of finding better ways to address this important concern.

More than half of the women who are victims of homelessness were also victims of domestic violence. In fact, virtually all homeless women have experienced domestic violence or sexual violence at some point in their lives.  They leave home, often with few or no resources, in order to escape further acts of violence.  These women require special attention from homelessness providers, but they also can often be very good candidates to escape from homelessness relatively quickly.

They need special attention because they share characteristics such as:

  • Living with real concerns about safety;
  • Having children with them, who may also be victims;
  • Being fearful and lacking trust in others;
  • Losing connections and community ties because of having to flee from their domestic situations;
  • Lacking resources or access to clothing and personal possessions, even material to establish their identity;
  • Needing to be kept from or even concealed from their former relations, unlike other victims of homelessness, who might be helped by relatives or family members;
  • The existence of an abuser who may be sabotaging a victim’s life goals, employment prospects, and economic independence.

They also, however, often have characteristics that make them good candidates for moving rapidly into permanent housing, such as having skills or education, and either have jobs that they can return to with the proper precautions or are capable of getting jobs.  With counseling and assistance, many of them can reestablish themselves relatively quickly.  However, inadequate housing and shelter options, evictions, discrimination and poverty force many women to remain in or return to an abusive relationship.  The sad fact is that local DV shelters have limited capacity, and turn away many more that they can serve.

The Council took actions in the budget to assist these survivors.  First, we allocated $15,000 for a program to train homelessness providers to the needs of domestic violence survivors, so that they can identify them and steer them towards the services and protection that they need.

Second, we approved a Statement of Legislative Intent, a guidance directive for the Human Services Department, asking them to work with the Office of Housing to study and explore opportunities for addressing the unmet housing needs of domestic violence survivors that reside in the City of Seattle.  Only about 2% of the City’s $85 million budget for housing, services, emergency shelter, emergency prevention and infrastructure is dedicated to housing for homeless survivors of domestic violence.  It is the Council’s intent that HSD, with assistance from OH, complete the following in 2011:

1) Determine the extent to which the housing needs of domestic violence survivors in Seattle are unmet and develop recommendations for addressing those needs.

2) Identify and present a prioritized set of actions the City could take to increase the availability of emergency, transitional and permanent housing for victims of domestic violence. These actions should be informed by the research findings and recommendations resulting from the body of work described in 1), above.  Policy measures or operational changes that might better prevent domestic violence survivors from experiencing homelessness or allow for rapid re-housing of displaced victims should also be considered.

3) Research the feasibility of partnering with financial institutions and other private entities to identify bank-owned properties that could be donated and converted into housing for victims of domestic violence and their families.

4) Consider the feasibility and possible design of a new City program that would encourage landlords to make privately-owned apartment units available to domestic violence survivors for free or reduced rent.

We are also exploring the Boston plan for identifying and assisting women and children who are homeless.  In Boston, police are given vouchers for motels/hotels, and if they see a family that looks like they are in need of shelter, they are authorized to stop and offer these vouchers as assistance, along with steering the families towards other services.  Seattle Councilmembers who visited Boston earlier this year report that they saw virtually no families on the streets, and Boston officials attributed this success to the voucher/police program.  We have identified this as a policy/budget proposal to be developed next year, including identifying the legal and financial issues that would have to be addressed to make it a reality.

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