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The city that never sleeps is failing miserably when it comes to helping survivors of domestic violence find a place to rest their heads, according to homeless advocates.

Overall, the number of families seeking shelter through the city’s homeless services system has exploded during the last few years, as reported in The New York Times last week. But the situation is particularly dire for survivors of domestic violence. Every night, New York City currently provides families with specialized domestic violence shelter, but every night the same system shuffles 500 such families into regular shelters, sometimes after a night on the floor of the Bronx office that serves for emergency homeless intake.

Specialized housing is critical for women who are escaping domestic violence, say the advocates who help these vulnerable women. They are generally dealing with emotional trauma as well as needing housing. Domestic violence shelters are attuned to these problems, providing counseling, child care, and basic classes, as well as something else that survivors desperately need: safety.

“It’s extremely dangerous to keep them waiting that long,” cautioned Jill Zuccardy, an attorney with the Manhattan-based Sanctuary for Families. In regular shelters, she adds, “the addresses are not confidential, the security is not as tight.”

“The problem is the number of domestic violence emergency beds has not kept up with the need,” agreed Bea Hanson, vice-president of domestic violence programs at Safe Horizon, the nonprofit that runs the city’s domestic violence hotline.

One complicating factor: if a family fleeing domestic violence does manage to get placed in a regular shelter, their chances of then getting moved to a specialized shelter dissolve. “Once they’re in the homeless system, there isn’t any official mechanism to hook then into the domestic violence system,” lamented Hanson.

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