Much of the effort on this problem has been on the law enforcement side, which makes sense. But the problem with solely addressing the law is that it leaves out a vital component to fighting domestic violence. A change in environment is needed. A restraining order is a legal remedy, but it is not really a change in location.
New Destiny Housing is one of the nonprofits that provides housing for domestic violence victims. They are also the only organization seeking permanent housing solutions specifically for this population.
According to executive director Carol Corden, affordable housing is badly needed to make any serious progress. Permanent housing is the key in addressing this problem, because if women (and men in some cases) have only a temporary break from an abusive situation, the problem is not solved. In fact, returning to an abusive environment may only make matters worse.
New York City is in a tight spot with this issue because the cost of housing is so high for people of all incomes. Moving out of an abusive living situation or dangerous relationship is less likely for many people because of financial reasons. Add children to the scenario and you have victims who are often without options.
The homeless population in the city has grown despite the best efforts of the Bloomberg administration to create more housing opportunities. Before the financial crisis, the big concern was on chronic homelessness, or those who are in the desperate cycle of poverty.
After the crash, the focus was on rapidly re-housing those who were in danger of finding themselves on the street.
Those are still important groups for policy professionals, but among all homeless families, one-third of them are also dealing with domestic violence issues. And the percentage would be higher if more abused women chose to leave their situations.
Many times at homeless intake centers, people are slow to say that domestic violence is an issue because they often have their children with them, which makes explaining it awkward.
What makes the domestic violence housing problem different from other homeless categories is the concept of neighborhood housing. People who find themselves homeless, are often still very attached to their neighborhood.
For example, those who become street homeless rarely venture far from wherever they once resided. Victims of domestic violence, however, should not be re-located in their neighborhood if possible. An environmental change is important for safety reasons.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how Public Advocate Bill de Blasio had said that he wanted to resurrect the Advantage Program. This program, now unfunded, would alleviate pressure on the shelter system by getting people into permanent housing situations.
If de Blasio or Joe Lhota or Bill Thompson (should there be a runoff) gets to City Hall, there is a great opportunity to address this problem. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been good on domestic violence from a law enforcement perspective, now is the time to address it from a housing standpoint.
The housing agencies in the city need to specifically address domestic violence and not blend it into the rest of the homeless population. It requires a different approach. This is the challenge to the next mayor.