Opinion: California Must Do More to Ensure Domestic Violence Survivors Don’t End Up Homeless

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In the public discussion of the injustice of homelessness, and the need to respond, survivors of domestic violence are often overlooked as a significant part of the population.

In the 2018 Point In Time Count, an annual effort to count the number of people experiencing homelessness on one night in January, 10 percent of respondents reported that they were victims of domestic violence.

My organization, the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, recently asked survivors what would help them find safe, stable housing after leaving a violent relationship.

“We need financial help for housing for at least six months or so,” one survivor said when surveyed for our Growing the Seeds of Healing and Justice project. “Because of (domestic violence) I lost my job and left my house with nothing but my children. It’s hard to find a job that fits my schedule since I (have) sole custody.”

Californians need to hear these voices, know that there are solutions, and understand that this is not an intractable problem.

Krista Niemczyk

At the federal level, there has been some progress, but more is needed—and survivors can’t wait. In the last three budget cycles including the funding bill that passed through Congress in December, the Department of Housing and Urban Development dedicated $50 million for homelessness projects across the nation to support survivors. But domestic violence organizations are only recently seeing the impact of these funds.

There is also no guarantee that this will be renewed every year, and this amount isn’t enough to fully address the national need. This is why we must require that a portion of California’s state budget investment in solving our homelessness crisis be dedicated to responding to the housing needs of domestic violence survivors. We need to help prevent survivors from becoming homeless and provide options to re-house those who are without homes.

The demand for safe, stable housing is incredibly high. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 6,903 survivors received social services in California in just one day in 2018, but due to a lack of resources, 688 additional requests for services went unmet. The vast majority of unmet requests—81 percent—were for housing.

In 2018, our coalition supported Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to include $10 million in one-time funding for domestic violence emergency housing. It’s time to make this aid a staple in California’s homelessness package—and expand the options that so many survivors are urgently requesting. This means that in addition to supporting domestic violence emergency services, funds must also be available for housing advocacy on behalf of survivors, transitional housing and Domestic Violence Housing First programs.

Domestic Violence Housing First has proven to be a model with lasting, positive effects on survivors’ lives. In a 2016 pilot with eight California-based domestic violence organizations, 100 percent of survivors leaving the program secured stable housing.

The bulk of California’s homelessness funding is distributed to the Continuums of Care Program—so it’s essential that a portion of that funding address the needs of domestic violence survivors who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

It bears repeating: In 2018, 10 percent of people experiencing homelessness during the one-night Point In Time count reported being victims of domestic violence. We need a corresponding percentage of funding for this population, so they can begin their journey to safety and well-being. We urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to remember homeless survivors as he is preparing his draft budget release this month.

Krista Niemczyk is the public policy manager at the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

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