How California’s Housing Crisis Affects Victims of Domestic Violence

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Yadira had to make a choice: whether to leave her batterer and protect her child, or stay in a hostile environment and put her and her child’s life at risk.

In July of 2017, the Los Angeles mother took a courageous step by calling domestic violence shelters. She found her way to Rainbow Services, a domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles where I am the executive director.

When my staff members met Yadira, she was shaken, but beginning to see that there was hope ahead.

She told her teenager, Taylor, that they would be going to a safe place in a few days. Although Taylor was hesitant, going to any place other than the family’s home was a welcomed change.

Elizabeth Eastlund is the executive director of Rainbow Services, a domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles.

Yadira and Taylor, whose names have been changed, made a home in our temporary shelter. While there, we helped Yadira with childcare while she worked during the day and late nights.

After a few months, with the assistance of Rainbow’s housing advocates, Yadira found an apartment in Los Angeles to call home.

Having temporary shelter, as well as assistance finding permanent housing, helped Yadira and her son start a new life. She was awarded custody of her son, who is now receiving counseling for the trauma he experienced witnessing the abuse.

“Thank you for changing lives,” Yadira told me recently. “Thank you for giving us hope.”

Yadira’s story is not uncommon.

Often victims of domestic violence will stay in an abusive relationship until they realize their life—or the lives of their children—is at risk.

But if victims know that they have a place to go to escape from the abuse, they may choose to leave sooner.

In Los Angeles, and across much of California, affordable housing is scarce and can result in domestic violence victims staying in abusive relationships simply because there is nowhere else for them to live. No one should have to choose between homelessness and staying in a violent home.

At Rainbow, we have seen our average emergency shelter stay double from 21 days to 42 days in just a few years because there is nowhere for survivors to go. There is a lot of debate about continuing to support shelter funding or make a shift to funding housing first approaches. I believe we can—and should—do both.

The Housing First method was initially introduced in the US in 1990’s as a way to help chronically homeless people, and later to address the needs of homeless families with an emphasis on child safety.

The main principle of Housing First is that housing is a basic human right. The method provides for low-barrier, immediate access to permanent housing. Advocates believe in the self-determination and choice of the consumer and commit to working with clients within a harm reduction framework, for as long as they need.

Domestic violence advocates have taken the Housing First model and applied it to abuse victims. We try to eliminate barriers—such as a lack of income or earning a living wage, limited work history, or the need for affordable child care—that make it difficult for survivors to leave an abusive situation. We help survivors figure out a way to afford rent.

In 2016, California became the first state in the nation to use federal Victims of Crime Act dollars to support the domestic violence Housing First model. The state Governor’s Office of Emergency Services awarded eight contracts to organizations, including Rainbow, that work with survivors of domestic violence who face housing instability or are homeless. A new report summarizes our findings from the program and can help other states implement similar programs.

In addition, in Los Angeles County, last year voters approved Measure H, an increase in the county’s sales tax, that will provide funding for homeless services. Over the next three years, the tax will provide $350 million annually. We are hopeful that future allocations of Measure H funding will include addressing homelessness among domestic violence victims, because they represent a significant part of the homeless population.

But we still need to do more.

We need to entice private developers build more affordable housing. And we need to continue to build partnerships between the previously siloed fields of domestic violence and homeless services. At least half of women who are homeless in Los Angeles have experienced domestic violence, according to the LA Homeless Services Authority.

In Yadira’s case, a Housing First model saved her and her son from having to experience homelessness.

In January 2018, four months after she and Taylor had moved into their own apartment, she emailed Rainbow.

“I’ll never be able to say how grateful I am for this chance,” she wrote.

She thanked us for helping her get assistance paying her rent and said she and Taylor were settling in at their new home.

“I’m happy I was able to pay my January portion on time,” she wrote. “It was a little hard, but I did it, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment, which I need in my life.”

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