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Cash is still king when It comes to keeping domestic violence survivors in their homes

A one-time payment of as little as $200 to a family in need can be life-changing. For domestic violence survivors, it can be the difference between homelessness and safety from violence. Swift cash assistance programs – also known as flexible funding – have the ability to affordably prevent homelessness and improve survivor outcomes among those recover from abuse.

Every October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month highlights the dangers and challenges faced by victims of domestic abuse both at home and after they have managed to find safety from their abuser. Thanks to recent federal and local housing protections for victims, advocates are often successful in helping survivors remain in their homes by having the abuser removed from the lease, barred from the premises and held accountable for damages done to the property.

{mosads}But many survivors soon learn that they are now facing eviction or having their utilities cut off because the abuser lied about making the monthly payments. Others struggle to assume full responsibility for the rent. For a single earner, one mishap – a disruption in child care, car repair or an unexpected illness – can turn into a crisis. Time off from work often results in decreased income or even unemployment, and families quickly face the prospect of homelessness.

These survivors often cannot rely on welfare programs for support. As Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaffer document in their recently published book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, the welfare reform of the 1990s eroded the U.S. cash welfare system by instituting Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which left it up to states to determine how much needy families could receive in cash.

As a result, Edin and Shaffer maintain, many states chose not to continue providing cash assistance at the same level to poor families, and according to the most recent data, the number of families receiving TANF has declined by 75 percent since 1996. What these states don’t know is that cash assistance can be a more fiscally sustainable model in supporting survivors of domestic violence.

As the executive director of the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) in Washington, D.C., I constantly interact with survivors of domestic violence who do not receive TANF or any other form of government assistance, and who struggle to make ends meet and keep a roof over their families’ heads.

But I also know that this grim reality can be changed. The solution comes in the form of flexible funding programs.

These initiatives provide survivors of domestic violence with cash assistance to address immediate threats to their housing stability. A few month’s back rent. $800 for car repairs. $200 to keep the heat on during a cold, winter month. These are the kinds of expenses that flexible funding is intended to cover to help survivors and their families stay in their homes. And the approach works.

In August, Dr. Cris Sullivan and Heather Bomsta from Michigan State University’s Research Consortium on Gender Based Violence published the findings from their evaluation of DASH’s Survivor Resilience Fund (SRF), which offers flexible funding to victims of domestic violence. The analysis found that this brief and relatively inexpensive intervention increased housing stability for 94 percent of the survivors who participated in the study, and who were still housed 6 months after receiving funds.

This conclusion is hardly a revelation for any survivor of domestic or sexual violence living on the edge of homelessness, but the evaluation is the first longitudinal study of its kind to show just how effective flexible funding can be for those families who are barely holding on, with little to no safety net to speak of.

Emergency shelters and transitional housing remain a critical and often life-saving resource for many survivors of domestic and sexual violence, particularly those in extremely dangerous situations and without any financial means. But as DASH and other housing advocates have seen in our work, these families make up only a part of the population of survivors seeking help. There are many others who want nothing more than to maintain safe, affordable housing in their community.

The SRF evaluation data show that swift flexible funding can prevent a family scarred by domestic violence from falling into homelessness and allow them to find safety and stability in their own home. As the nation observes Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I urge policymakers at all levels of government to spread awareness of and support increased investments in flexible funding programs. They may not seem like much, but they hold the power to transform lives.

Peg is a social work professional with broad experience in nonprofit and grant-making agencies. In 2006, she founded the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) to ensure access to safe and sustainable housing for victims of abuse in Washington, D.C., currently offering a range of safe housing options for approximately 500 individuals and families a year. 

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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