Statistics such as these make it critical for domestic violence shelters to participate in the annual Point in Time Count; without us, we fail to gather a full picture of trends in housing and homelessness.
PROTECTING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DATA
Federal law prohibits domestic violence providers from entering victims’ information into the county’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) database. Doing so creates significant safety concerns for victims. Sensitive information, such as their presence in the shelter, their HIV status or history of substance use or mental illness, would be visible and known to staff in all other housing programs. An abuser employed by one of these agencies could then gain access to the victim, or use the information against them, for example claiming a victim is an unfit parent who should not have child custody.
For these reasons, Safe Alliance takes extensive steps to mask any identifying information submitted as part of the Point-in-Time Count. Each adult shelter resident is assigned a unique identifier, distinct from the identifier assigned by our database; that identifier is then modified to group a parent with that parent’s children. This is done in preparation for the actual count, so that resident information can be matched to the interview data. The staff time required to prepare and then clean the data is considerable.
NOT THE FULL PICTURE
While the information we provided as part of the Point-in-Time Count is important, it does not provide a full picture of domestic violence victims’ need for emergency shelter.
Every day, we receive more requests for shelter than we are able to meet. Each year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence conducts a census of domestic violence shelters and services. In just one day in 2016, 7,914 requests for emergency shelter and housing were unmet due to lack of funding. Emergency Shelter and Transitional Housing were the most urgent unmet needs.[iii]
So far this fiscal year, Safe Alliance has had to turn away 217 adult survivors seeking safety at our facility because the shelter was full. These adult victims and their children likely would not be included the Point-in-Time Count because, too often, victims who cannot secure shelter remain with their abuser – unsafe, but housed.
NEED FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Safe Alliance’s ability to offer victims safe haven is hampered by the lack of affordable housing in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Victims cannot safely exit shelter until they find viable housing, and we cannot bring new victims into shelter until space becomes available.
Compounding the problem, victims face unique barriers to securing housing. Their credit and rental histories are often ruined by abusers running up credit card bills or lying about paying rent, utilities or childcare. Their employment record may be weakened if a victim missed work or is fired as a result of workplace harassment and stalking. Finally, victims may have a lengthy eviction record, often caused by repeated calls to the police or damage to the property caused by the abuser.[iv]
Domestic Violence Providers and Housing and Homeless Services Providers must work together to understand and address the intersections between domestic violence and homelessness.
Housing is a critical component of a victims’ ability to live violence-free, independent from the abuser.
But successful housing placement may not be maintained if the housing provider does not understand the dynamics of domestic violence and how it might impact housing stability.
Our success, therefore, depends upon the collaboration and mutual understanding – goals advanced by our joint work on the Point in Time Count.
About This Week’s Blog Post Author
Kathryn Firmin-Sellers is Safe Alliance’s Chief Operating Officer. Kathryn works closely with Safe Alliance’s domestic violence shelter and helps lead the agency’s strategic planning initiatives.