A few months ago, DVCC Housing Advocate Katie Evans took a phone call from Kelly, a former client who was excited because she had received a Section Eight rent subsidy voucher after participating in a HUD study while living in a transitional living program in a nearby town. Kelly had come to the DVCC through our court program, where DVCC victim advocates had guided her through the legal system and assisted her with obtaining funds from the state Office of Victim Services to repair the teeth smashed in by her husband. Kelly worked with Evans and with DVCC counselors, and eventually opted to move into the Stamford SafeHouse. Even though her husband was in jail, his family continued to threaten and harass her. After less than a month in the SafeHouse, Kelly and her daughter were accepted into the transitional living program and then awarded the voucher - hence the excited phone call.
"This was such a wonderful break for her," Evans said. "Now she's able to live independently and support her daughter without all of her income going for rent."
Kelly, indeed, is lucky. For a woman fleeing her abuser or attempting to live on her own for the first time, the task of finding safe, affordable housing in the Fairfield County area, one of the most expensive regions in the country, is daunting. It's not just that rents are high, that wait lists for public housing and transitional living programs are long, and that obtaining a Section Eight voucher is more difficult than winning a high stakes lottery. An abuse victim also may have been cut off from financial sources by her abuser, isolated from the realities of budgeting and financial management, or kept out of the job market by a controlling partner who won't let her work.
Despite those challenges, DVCC's Housing Advocate has succeeded in assisting well over 400 SafeHouse residents and community clients with finding either long-term transitional or permanent housing in the past year, as well as helping many of them with financial and budget planning. Other former residents have gone to live with family or friends, returned home or followed other options.
When it comes to helping clients find housing, each circumstance is different and many require a certain degree of creativity, tenacity and the ability to develop working relationships with other agencies and housing providers. In one instance, a DVCC client had public housing through the Norwalk Housing Authority, but felt unsafe from her abuser. Evans worked with the NHA, who agreed to provide the woman with an emergency transfer to a different location should the need arise. In another instance, the Housing Advocate worked with a client to help her improve her credit rating score and write letters and provide references to potential landlords so that they would accept her Section Eight voucher. After a few weeks, the client found a landlord willing to rent her a suitable apartment where she and her young son could live after leaving the SafeHouse. And in other instances, the Housing Advocate has assisted clients in utilizing the 2010 law that allows victims of domestic violence to break their lease so that they can move on to a safer place.
"These are some of the success stories," Evans said. "But there are still too many instances where we are unable to find suitable housing, where victims may have to go to a homeless shelter because there are no other options other than to go back to living with their abuser."