Is having a home worth tolerating abuse? Is escaping abuse worth tolerating homelessness?
That is the lose-lose choice facing victims of intimate partner violence. Nearly half of victims return to their abusers because they have nowhere else to go. Rapid re-housing programs offer a new way out for domestic abuse victims.
The first shelter for battered women opened in 1974. Since then an estimated 2,400 shelters now exist, and have served millions of people seeking refuge from their abusers.
Still, it’s not enough. For many victims shelters are brief respites from the turmoil in their homes. Survivors of violence may be coping with depression, trauma, hopelessness and a belief they are worthless. Abusers build financial dependence as part of their hold. Healing emotionally and physically takes time. Building reliable income takes time.
Nor surprising, few victims can move from their home or a shelter directly to affordable permanent housing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s recent issue of “Out of Reach 2012″ estimates that there are only 30 affordable apartments for every 100 very low income households.
Most financial support for affordable housing programs begins with HUD, and the agency has set aside money for programs that must serve the homeless. That’s where Rapid Rehousing comes in. As its name implies HUD has begun shifting resources to more homeless prevention and for those who do become homeless, more resources to shorten the length of homeless episodes. Years of research on best practices and outcomes led to revamped programs to end homelessness. The HEARTH Act (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing) recognizes Rapid Rehousing as an effective approach to reducing homelessness.
Many affordable housing programs must be retooled to meet the HEARTH Act intent and its expected outcomes. Identifying who is “homeless” is one of those elements. Fortunately for victims and advocates looking for resources the HEARTH definition carves out a special recognition of their dilemma. The new definition states
“individuals and families who are fleeing, or are attempting to flee, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions that relate to violence against the individual or a family member.”
Qualifying as homeless is the first step towards obtaining HUD assistance. And note that the definition does not refer to victims who have already fled domestic violence. It refers to those “attempting to flee.”
There are two primary sources of Rapid Rehousing assistance. The most significant resources (of which I am aware) come from HUD’s Continuum of Care program. Every community has a council to administer its Continuum of Care funds. The easiest way to find yours is to start at the top. HUD posts a map and index of local councils. Once you identify the lead agency you can begin making contacts about what funds are available in your community.
Your search should not stop there. Contact your city or county community development department and ask about the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG). Once the domain of emergency shelters HEARTH expanded the use of ESG. Now its funds can pay for rapid rehousing programs.
Because ESG can pay for Rapid Rehousing does not mean it has to pay for it. Advocates will have to do some homework to find out whether ESG money has been designated for Rapid Rehousing in their community. Identify your local ESG resources directly from the Continuum of Care. You can also check with your city or county community development office to find out if it has designated any funding for Rapid Rehousing.
Advocates and survivors should advocate for help from rapid rehousing programs with this understanding – it is designed to move families from homelessness to housing who need only a few months of help paying the rent. It varies from community to community but ultimately the survivor must be able to pick up and maintain the rent.
One more caveat – resources are limited in a time of extraordinary demand. So when you hear the words “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” remember the HEARTH Act clearly intends to help those who are fleeing, or attempting to flee, domestic violence. For that we should be grateful.