In a year where domestic violence rates and deaths have spiked dramatically, a nonprofit that supports abuse survivors has found a way to find housing for women and children fleeing danger.
A $1 million grant to the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence will go beyond just housing. It will give survivors financial support to rebuild their lives, like a car to get to a job or access to child care.
“I don’t think we talk enough about how expensive it is to stay safe in America,” said Mariah Wineski, LCADV executive director. “I think the issues of safety and the issue of economic security are inextricably linked in this country. There is no true safety without economic security. All paths lead to either homelessness or back with your abuser.”
The grant will expand a pilot program that began in February and ran for roughly five months, according to Wineski. LCADV worked with 11 domestic violence organizations to place 600 survivors in stable housing.
The grant will allow the program, called the Domestic Violence Flexible Housing Assistance Program, to expand to every part of the state.
The money was secured from the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. This “marks the largest investment of new state funding into domestic violence services in over a decade,” a press release from LCADV said.
According to Wineski, domestic violence and homelessness are intimately connected — a relationship that is often overlooked. She cited a recent study of homeless women with children that found 80% had previously experienced domestic violence.
And across the state, the most recently available data from the Point in Time Count that tallies homeless individuals for a week in January lists domestic violence victims as the third-highest subgroup of unhoused people in three major regions.
Many women and children fleeing violence wind up homeless, and others find themselves in shelters. Both are often in need of long-term, stable housing.
Shelters are confidential locations, have locked doors and provide security cameras, which is ideal for survivors escaping violent partners seeking to harm them, Wineski said.
Other women may not require that type of security if their partner has been incarcerated or if they have traveled from another state, but they do need somewhere to live — which could be a problem if their partner has ruined her finances, credit score or rental history.
In other cases, women may have lost jobs because their abuser stalked or harassed them at work, according to the federal Domestic Violence and Housing Technical Assistance Consortium. There are also situations where women have been evicted for calling the police on an abuser too many times.
All of these complications create significant hurdles for survivors trying to free themselves from an abusive partner, likely while overcoming significant trauma from the experience.
“When you think about all the things someone needs to live a stable life, housing is often taken for granted,” Wineski said. “You really can’t do much of anything else if you don’t have a safe space to live.”
Once a survivor has a home, she can focus on planning for other goals, such as getting her child into a school or finding a job.
This program also lets the Coalition assist women with other expenses that — if left to pile up — could drive some women back into the arms of their abuser.
“Often, the true barrier to a victim’s stable housing is not the rent itself,” Wineski said. “Sometimes, it’s a functioning vehicle to get to work, childcare while they interview for jobs, or a utility deposit to get the lights turned on.”
And the funding comes at a critical time, she added. This year has seen high rates of both domestic violence incidents and death across the state, which Wineski said can be traced to the repercussions of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Not only did the early fear and lockdown keep victims isolated with their abusers, but also some survivors who had stability and housing lost their jobs and faced eviction. This, she said, has created a perfect storm for domestic violence.
“It’s been a bad year,” Wineski said. “In a lot of ways, COVID-19 did an abuser’s works for them.”