Homelessness and Domestic Violence: What’s the Connection?


In the United States, there may be as many as 10 million people who experience domestic violence every year. Unfortunately, since homelessness and domestic violence are inextricably linked, some of these households will experience homelessness.

Since October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s a good time to take stock of the scope of domestic violence in America and what our shelters can do to help households fleeing abuse. This topic is important to all emergency shelters (not just domestic violence shelters), as domestic violence survivors tend to end up in a variety of shelters.

So why are homelessness and domestic violence linked? There are numerous, complex reasons, but I want to bring your attention to one that’s thought of less frequently. In addition to physical and emotional abuse, many domestic violence survivors also experience financial abuse, which is when an abuser either limits or denies access to household finances

This has many implications for survivors fleeing an abusive situation. They may not be able to access bank accounts or credit cards. They may have poor credit history, which might make it hard to rent a home. They may lack an employment history, which often means it’s harder to find employment.

These factors all lead to an increased likelihood for housing instability or homelessness. They also set those who experience domestic violence up for an impossible decision: do they remain in an abusive situation or risk becoming homeless?

Many households will choose to leave an abusive situation, or explore the possibility or doing so. Let’s take a look at some recent statistics about the scope of domestic violence and homelessness:

  • On a single day in September 2014, 67,646 adults and children received assistance from domestic violence programs across the country. Nearly 24,000 adults and children (40 percent of the total served on that day) were provided with emergency shelter assistance.
  • About half of all homeless women report that domestic violence was directly responsible for their homelessness.
  • In a survey of 25 major American cities, 16 percent of all homeless people reported that they had experienced domestic violence.

For many who flee an abusive home, domestic violence shelters are the only thing keeping them off the streets—yet thousands are unable to enter a domestic violence shelter each year. In a single fiscal year (FY 2013), 186,522 households who wanted to enter a domestic violence shelter were unable to do so.

Often, this means that these households go to other shelters, where staff who may not be as attuned to important issues such as trauma-informed care, safety planning, financial empowerment, or housing rights specific to domestic violence survivors.

Domestic violence is an issue that can impact anyone. It is not limited by race, gender, sexual preference, socioeconomic status, or any other variable. This means that, while domestic violence shelters serve a critical role in all communities, every homeless service provider should be attentive to the needs of survivors.

So while Domestic Violence Awareness Month is a great time to bring attention to the issue, let’s all work together to make every month count.

To learn how to tailor rapid re-housing interventions to domestic violence survivors, check out our Domestic Violence Toolkit.

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Don’t Forget to Demonstrate Partnerships in your NOFA Application

This post is the eighth in a series examining the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s recently released Notice of Funding Availability for the Fiscal Year 2015 Continuum of Care Competition. You can find the full series here: FY 2015 CoC NOFA.

We’re still digging through HUD’s latest CoC Program NOFA to determine what CoCs should do to secure the maximum amount of federal funds to assist homeless people.

Today, we’re looking at all the incentives spelled out in the NOFA that encourage communities to develop partnerships. HUD will base about a quarter of the points in a community’s overall “score” on the CoC’s strategic use of resources. And by “resources” HUD doesn’t just mean the CoC funds HUD is awarding; it also means the array of funding resources CoCs can access through these partnerships.

Getting the best possible score requires that homeless system leaders show that they have built partnerships with other public and private agencies that either control those funding resources or have the expertise to ensure all homeless people in the CoC are appropriately served.

So what is HUD asking CoC leaders, who apply for federal funds on behalf of homeless service providers, to do?

Open up the planning process.

Who attends the CoC meetings to determine spending priorities for ending homelessness in your community? Does your CoC ensure all the homeless service providers in the region are included, even those who receive no public funding? Are domestic violence providers and unaccompanied youth providers represented? Invite new partners to the table.

Coordinate with the Emergency Solutions Grant Program!

This is very important. The Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) Program is awarded separately from the funds administered by CoCs, but ESG pays for homelessness prevention, rapid re-housing, emergency shelters and outreach. It’s a critical component of any community’s response to homelessness.

HUD is strongly encouraging CoC leaders to work closely with agencies that are administering ESG funds. CoC leaders can help inform how ESG funds are allocated to have the largest possible impact on ending homelessness in the jurisdiction. This should include strongly encouraging them to invest substantially in rapid re-housing.

Hopefully your CoC leads are already working closely with ESG recipients. If not, start talking now.

Partner with public housing agencies.

In recent years, HUD has encouraged public housing agencies (PHAs) to do more to assist homeless people in the communities they serve. Has your CoC been able to leverage this national effort locally? Have PHAs in your community adopted preferences for people experiencing homelessness?

Explore with your PHA leaders whether they would consider adopting preferences for homeless people now, so your CoC can take credit for that action in the NOFA submission, and homeless individuals and  families will benefit by accessing subsidized housing.

Work to prevent vulnerable people from being discharged into homelessness.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for individuals who are discharged from hospitals, mental health programs, or correctional facilities to find themselves on the street trying to meet their housing needs on their own. Too often, they are forced to turn to homeless shelters.

That’s why HUD is awarding points to applicants who have worked with state and local institutions or systems of care to develop policies to prevent this from happening.

This is not an easy lift. After all, state officials don’t report to homeless service providers. But HUD is incentivizing communities for at least trying to work with them to implement a strategy (an “ongoing planning process” in the NOFA) to prevent discharges into homelessness. Certainly, that’s a threshold worth striving to reach.

Have your CoC leaders begun this discussion with state officials? Have leaders from other CoCs in the state begun this discussion with state leaders? Could you join forces? Now, may be the time to start those conversations.

Partner with schools

HUD is also encouraging CoCs to partner with school systems to identify children, youth, and families who are homeless and make sure that homeless children are linked to school or early education opportunities. What mechanisms do you have in your community (expedited referral, reserved placements, etc.) to connect young children in homelessness programs to early childhood programs? Do your COC programs accept referrals from school liaisons who work with families facing homelessness?

Are there policies that address these questions in place? If so, document them in your application. If not, it’s time to start developing them.

Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate…

HUD is strongly incentivizing CoCs to coordinate federal homeless assistance resources with a range of other federal funding streams, including programs serving runaway and homeless youth, programs serving people living with HIV/AIDS (HOPWA), and programs serving low-income families with children. All of these programs are serving people who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.

What are they providing? How can you join forces to achieve common goals? Maximum points are awarded for applications that reflect CoC coordination with all of these other programs. It may be a little late to demonstrate collaboration if no prior relationship with agencies that manage these resources now exists, but delaying the conversation doesn’t help either. Get to know the leaders responsible for administering these funds, share your local plan to end homelessness and explore opportunities to collaborate. 

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