After Shelter, Helping Survivors Find A Home

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Among the many people who struggle to stay safely housed in this crowded and expensive city, one group faces a special challenge: low-income residents who fled their homes to escape domestic violence.

The Bloomberg administration has launched a set of programs to address the particular needs of this group – and advocates say it comes not a moment too soon. The biggest piece is the Domestic Violence Work Advantage program, which provides a rental subsidy to help house domestic violence survivors after they’ve left emergency shelters and are trying to re-establish safe and stable living situations.

“It gives people that six-month cushion after coming out of shelter,” said Catherine Trapani, HousingLink coordinator at New Destiny Housing Corporation, which connects low-income domestic violence survivors with housing resources. Adults and children fleeing domestic violence can stay in a city emergency shelter for a maximum of 135 days – compared with an average of 300 days in homeless shelters, advocates note – and upon leaving, those who have been in a city emergency shelter for at least 42 days, and are on public assistance, may be eligible for a housing subsidy of up to $1,070 per month for up to half a year.

“It is definitely an improvement. It recognizes that most residents are coming in in a state of trauma,” says Carol Corden, New Destiny’s executive director. By helping to cover six months’ rent before requiring that a survivor be employed, Work Advantage also takes the need for child care into consideration more than the previous requirement to be working after only two weeks, Corden said.

Bloomberg spokeswoman Dawn Walker said 37 families already have used the Advantage subsidy to move to permanent housing.

Announced Oct. 25, this new program – the latest tailored kind of Work Advantage, a group of programs replacing the city’s previous rental subsidy, Housing Stability Plus – is joined by “set aside” units from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (40 units this fiscal year) and a handful of other initiatives as enhanced paths to sheltering domestic violence survivors.

An outcome of the Task Force on Domestic Violence and Permanent Housing, created in June 2006, the other initiatives are: reducing the time required to process shelter residents’ housing applications for Section 8 and New York City Housing Authority Domestic Violence Priority housing; training service providers on the application process for the city’s main supportive housing program, New York/New York III; better data sharing between city shelter systems; and a partnership with United Way of NYC to create “after-care” programs for post-trauma support of survivors and their families.

Gordon Campbell, CEO of United Way of NYC – who until recently headed a major city nonprofit domestic violence service provider, Safe Horizon – said the after-care element is an important addition to available services. United Way is covering half the cost of the $500,000 initiative. “Housing, safety and economic security – that’s what’s unique about this,” Campbell said of the program, which will include a focus on obtaining and keeping employment.

Now that Work Advantage is underway, advocates like Corden and Trapani from New Destiny are particularly interested in charting the progress of the after-care element, which United Way expects to have up and running in the beginning of the year. “A richer support service structure post-shelter” is needed, Corden said. “The question will really be whether they’ll be able to do enough and do it quickly enough.”

– Karen Loew

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