Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Housing for abuse survivors reopening

More than a year after Spokane lost a significant chunk of its housing for domestic violence survivors, four more apartments will be open to women and children rebuilding their lives after abuse.

Transitions, a nonprofit organization serving women and children, and the YWCA received a $499,766 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to reopen four transitional housing apartments and provide other services to families fleeing domestic violence for two years.

It’s welcome news for providers who have struggled to keep doors open after the federal government shifted its priority toward funding housing for chronically homeless people several years ago.

“This doesn’t replace all of that, but it certainly helps,” said Edie Rice-Sauer, executive director of Transitions, about the grant.

The Obama administration oversaw a large push to end homelessness by focusing on evidence-based approaches to house people who have spent years in shelters or on the streets, including low-barrier permanent supportive housing.

But in a world where there’s never enough funding to go around, that push caused other services, including transitional housing for domestic violence victims, to fall by the wayside.

“It’s been a challenge for them, for us, for really anybody that’s been serving survivors,” said Jen Hayes, associate director of housing at the YWCA.

Spokane uses a coordinated assessment system to refer homeless people to social services. The assessment asks people about a number of risk factors, including how long they’ve been homeless and any history of drug abuse or mental illness.

“Our domestic violence clients have a difficulty scoring really high because they typically have not been homeless for a very long time,” said Dawn Kinder, director of community, housing and human services for the city.

Homeless women tend to be hard to find, often staying in cars or couch surfing rather than risking living on the streets with kids. Rice-Sauer said that often means there’s less of a community outcry to get them housed.

“You’re not going to see a lot of homeless women on the corner begging,” she said.

Because much of the city’s funding for homeless services is tied to federal grants and other money with restrictions, few apartments or solutions are available to people who don’t qualify through the assessment.

Domestic violence survivors often don’t do well in housing designed for chronically homeless people. Abuse can take many forms, including financial control or outright theft from a partner and emotional abuse. Many women the YWCA serves are financially devastated, in the middle of custody battles and struggling with other things.

“It takes a while to kind of put the pieces back together,” Hayes said.

Since Transitions and the YWCA lost funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, they’ve had trouble directing survivors into appropriate housing.

Women who in the past would have moved on to a transitional apartment have been staying in the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter longer, which in turn makes it harder for the shelter to take in new families.

“We are having to screen very carefully and we are having to screen people out of the shelter,” Hayes said. Anyone in imminent danger will be offered a motel room if the shelter is full, which further adds to the YWCA’s costs.

The city put about $222,000 toward domestic violence services in 2017, Kinder said, between city, state and federal funds.

“We need more funding streams in the city of Spokane targeting DV victims,” she said.

Transitions will house the additional families in apartments at its Transitional Living Center and Miryam’s House, while the YWCA and Odyssey Youth Center will provide support and training for staff.

Kinder said that, with the exception of one shelter in Spokane Valley, all county services for domestic violence victims are within city limits. Her office is working to find more outside funding sources to help keep those shelters and apartments open.

“We need more of that work being done,” she said.