Without Housing Assistance, Victims of Domestic Violence Face Hard Choices, Report Says

A new report finds without housing assistance more domestic violence victims are leaving city shelters without having a safe place to go.

New Destiny Housing, a non-profit domestic violence provider, authored the report which surveyed 39 out of 43 city domestic violence shelters. The survey found 513 victims left the shelters —  a 5 percent increase in 2011 compared to the prior year — for "unknown locations."

There are roughly 2,200 emergency shelter beds for domestic violence victims fleeing abusive situations. Unlike homeless shelters, these beds are time limited and victims are given 135 days to find permanent places to stay. The deadline has been difficult to meet for many of the victims, who are largely low income women with few resources.  Now without housing assistance, New Destiny’s Catherine Trapani worries more victims are being forced to make difficult and unsafe choices, like going back to their abuser.

"Survivors that feel like they are out of options and out of ideas don't want to admit to the staff where they're going," said Trapani, "because they're ashamed to have to report that  after all the work they've done to get safe that they are in fact returning to an unsafe location."

A spokeswoman for the Human Resources Administration said it is reviewing the report, which they noted is not final. "HRA domestic violence shelter providers are committed to working with survivors to ensure safe and appropriate post-shelter placement," the spokeswoman said.

Shelter providers note that housing assistance for domestic violence victims has been chipped away at for years.  In April 2011 the city stopped issuing the last of the housing subsidies available to homeless families and domestic violence victims.

Ted McCourtney who runs the Sarah Burke House, a shelter in the Bronx, said this past fiscal year his group only had the resources to move 20 families to private apartments, down from over 100 in 2005 when more assistance was available.

McCourtney explained that to be accepted into a domestic violence shelter, a victim must be in severe danger making it all the more important that they find safe options.  "It's not at all uncommon for them to have just been strangled by their abuser, for their abuser to have pulled a gun on them, to threaten to kill them."

The lack of housing assistance for domestic violence victims is a nationwide issue. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, approximately 59 percent of local programs don’t offer housing options.