Today, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) applauds the introduction of the Help End Abusive Living Situations (HEALS) Act, a critical bill that will expand access to housing and homelessness resources for survivors of domestic violence. Introduced by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), the bipartisan HEALS Act would ensure that federal resources from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are better distributed to meet the unique confidential and safe housing needs of survivors of domestic violence.
Domestic abuse is a leading cause of homelessness among women. “We simply cannot overstate the importance of safe housing for survivors who are fleeing their homes due to abuse. Nearly 60 percent of all homeless women report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness. Safe housing is literally a lifesaver. Once housing is established, it is a stepping stone to a life free of violence,” said Kim Gandy, NNEDV President and CEO.
Abusers often sabotage a victim’s economic stability, making it difficult for victims to find rental properties because of damaged credit, rental, and employment histories as a result of abuse. Consequently, victims of domestic violence are at an increased risk of homelessness. Victims are forced to choose between homelessness and remaining in a home where they are abused, beaten, intimidated, and controlled.
NNEDV’s 11th annual Domestic Violence Counts: National Census of Domestic Violence Services found that, in a single day, nearly 8,000 victims were turned away because there was not enough safe housing to meet the need. Unfortunately, recent changes in HUD’s Continuum of Care funding have significantly reduced availability of domestic violence transitional housing programs, leaving many communities without the resources they need to provide safe housing for victims and survivors.
“We are incredibly thankful for Senator Cornyn’s leadership in introducing the HEALS Act. Over the last several years we’ve seen a de-prioritization of transitional housing for domestic violence survivors, resulting in decreased funding and ultimately harming both programs and survivors,” said Gloria Terry, CEO, Texas Council on Family Violence. “We know that this bill will make a difference in the lives of countless Texas survivors by helping them secure safe housing so they can heal and begin rebuilding their lives.”
The troubling funding shifts are a result of changing priorities and a misalignment of performance measures – where domestic violence programs are not evaluated on survivor-centered outcomes of safety and trauma-responsiveness.
“Federal housing policy shifts from transitional housing to rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing has disproportionately and negatively impacted victim services providers and survivors in North Dakota by decreasing victim-specific housing programs. Many domestic violence survivors need the supportive services transitional housing offers to get them back on their feet and out of the cycle of poverty and homelessness,” said Janelle Moos, Executive Director, CAWS North Dakota, statewide sexual and domestic violence coalition.
The HEALS Act would direct HUD to evaluate domestic violence programs on their ability to safely house survivors. It would allow programs that have lost funding to reapply, directs HUD to conduct research into effective housing options for survivors, and to report on funding trends. It requires communities to consider housing models equally, including domestic violence transitional housing.
“The HEALS Act is a crucial step in ensuring that the needs of homeless victims of domestic violence are understood and met in communities, said Monica McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy at NNEDV. “Recent policy shifts have reduced funding for domestic violence programs. It is unacceptable that communities do not have the resources to help those fleeing life-threatening violence. We are hopeful that the HEALS Act will help to reinvest in survivors.”
Advocates and survivors consistently identify housing as a primary need. NNEDV works to increase awareness of survivors’ housing needs and to help improve system-wide access for victims and survivors.