New York City recently announced a $100 million plan to create “safe-haven” shelters for those living on the street. While we’re encouraged to see the city spotlight the significant problem of street homelessness, we urge lawmakers to give the same attention to the pressing but less visible problem of family homelessness – which affects more than 15,000 families in New York.
Domestic violence is often the root cause of homelessness for families. In fact, in an October 2019 report by Comptroller Scott Stringer, domestic violence was identified as the leading cause of family homelessness in New York. These situations can be particularly devastating for low-income families, who must flee from their homes in order to be safe.
Much of the attention and funding around the issue of family homelessness in the city has been dedicated to short-term fixes like shelter. While temporary housing is a necessary resource for victims who must leave dangerous situations to be safe, it is not an effective long-term solution for survivors seeking to build stable, independent lives for themselves and their families.
Because so many domestic violence victims bring their children into shelter when they flee, the trauma of homelessness exacerbates the effects of living in an abusive home. Children living in shelters are less likely to attend school regularly and more likely to experience physical and mental health issues. They also have a greater likelihood than their peers of returning to shelter as adults — making homelessness a key contributor to the cycle of intergenerational poverty.
To end this cycle and significantly reduce family homelessness caused by domestic violence, we urge the city to move beyond short-term fixes and adopt proven, long-term solutions that offer permanent housing so families are no longer forced to choose between domestic violence and homelessness.
These include increasing the number of appropriately-sized units allocated to domestic violence survivors in the city’s housing plan and expanding the number of rental vouchers available. Both of these steps would go a long way toward ensuring that domestic violence survivors and their families can leave dangerous situations – for good.
The city should also support programs that allow survivors and their families to remain safely in existing housing or to move quickly into other permanent housing from an abusive situation. These programs ensure safety for victims in the short term and minimal disruption for their children– at significantly lower cost than shelter.
In addition, expanding the city’s support for service-enriched housing would help vulnerable domestic violence survivors stay in permanent housing over the long term. Enhancing permanent housing with on-site services – such as safety counseling, financial literacy, and job readiness assistance – can help survivors overcome barriers like trauma and poor credit and hold onto their housing. Programs like these give low-income survivors of domestic violence the crucial support they need to move beyond crisis, avoid the added trauma of homelessness, and build stable lives for themselves and their children.
When it comes to the safety and well-being of domestic violence survivors and their children, it’s clear that short-term solutions are not working. As a city, we must do better by prioritizing permanent housing and support services for survivors to reduce family homelessness and the long-term impacts of abuse.
Carol Corden is the executive director of New Destiny Housing.