Hopes, Dreams and Housing (Part 1)
“What do you think about when you don’t like where you are?”
With ICADV’s Moving Ahead through Financial Empowerment courses, we teach survivors that a budget is a tool to achieve their hopes and dreams. For the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has left us spending more time in our homes than ever before. It has been a stark reminder of just how important a home – especially a safe home – can be. Home is where you put down roots and care for your potted plant. Home can be as simple as a house and a small spot of land, or a quiet apartment with a landlord who is responsive, makes timely repairs, and doesn’t get handsy at the end of the month when the rent is due.
For survivors of domestic violence, the hope of a home can be transformed into something else, a place of fear and danger. Forty-six percent of homeless women report staying in an abusive relationship because they had nowhere else to go. Eighty percent of survivors entering shelters identified “securing stable housing” as their primary need. Unfortunately, finding safe affordable housing isn’t easy. In any given year, there are more than 150 instances where a tenant was evicted or denied an apartment as a result of gender-based violence.
ICADV has advocated for solutions to help secure safe housing for survivors, including:
Safe at Home – an address confidentiality program
Right to Assistance
Federal VAWA housing protections
But it isn’t enough.
We need to pass legislation that allows survivors to safely end their leases when they have been victimized in their home. We must also provide housing assistance and rental support to help survivors leave an unsafe situation or remain safely in their homes. We must pass legislation to protect survivors from being screened out of apartments due to false or inaccurate rental histories.
In addition to addressing a survivor’s housing needs we must also provide opportunities for economic justice to survivors, including an increase in the state’s minimum wage and enforcement of equal pay protections that are a lifeline for survivors who face housing insecurity.
Tenant Protections and economic supports will go a long way towards preventing homelessness, but we have to address the homelessness crisis that often results when safety net fails. When individuals and families become homeless, they face a greater risk of abuse and victimization. Studies and surveys report that 90 percent of women who are homeless have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives. And, thirty-eight percent of all victims become homeless at some point in their lifetime.
ICADV and our network of 22 victim service programs are national leaders in centering the housing needs of survivors. In 2013, the state transformed victim services with three goals. First, prioritize housing. Second, meet survivors where they are at. Third, use our limited funding steams more efficiently. As a result, additional resources have been allocated to domestic violence comprehensive programs and shelters to assist survivors in finding and accessing permanent housing. Iowa programs have embraced a scattered site emergency shelter model that includes hotel/motel stays, master lease apartments, and transitional housing that allow survivors to remain in their communities.
With this model of service delivery, ICADV has adopted a few core values that are at the center of effective housing work:
Safety and housing access are basic human rights, not rewards for good behavior or following the rules.
Relationships and/or partnerships are everything. A person’s region, immigration status, criminal history or ZIP code shouldn’t determine access to housing.
Genuine advocacy is more work, more engagement and often messy. To do this work, advocates deserve respect, a livable wage, additional training and flexibility to accept survivors rather than assess them.
Finally, in the best housing programs, every survivor is ready for housing and program successes are defined by survivors.
The pandemic has challenged all of us to think differently about our homes, families and priorities. The same is true of ICADV and your local domestic violence program. We need to think differently about the tools we have to access safe, affordable housing, and recognize economic and systemic barriers Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC); marginalized communities; disabled individuals; and survivors living in poverty experience each and every day.
This change begins with us, and through supportive partnerships with community groups, culturally specific organizations, mutual aid organizations and traditional housing networks. If there is one thing we have learned over the past two years, it is just how deeply we depend on one another. Now is the time to come together and work towards a future where all people have access to safe, affordable housing and the freedom to thrive.