Kaylie had nearly reached the end of her 60-day stay at the DVCC Stamford SafeHouse and she felt confident that her abusive boyfriend of several years would no longer be a problem. She wanted to return to the town in another part of the state where she had a part-time job, affordable care for her young child and a support system of friends. The only problem was that she had no place to live and limited funds for housing. So Kaylie called the homeless shelter nearest to her town. It appeared the shelter would be able to accommodate her, until she was asked if she had been a victim of domestic violence in the past 8 to 10 years. When she said yes, the intake counselor informed Kaylie the homeless shelter couldn't accept her and that she needed to go to a domestic violence shelter.
"But that's where I am now, and I don't need to be here any longer," Kaylie tried to explain.
DVCC's Housing Advocate, Katie Evans, intervened and eventually got an apology from staff at the shelter and a promise that they would re-evaluate their policy regarding domestic violence victims. However, by then the shelter was full, and Kaylie ended up staying with a friend.
"Essentially, the shelter was in violation of the Fair Housing Act," Evans said, adding that a similar incident had occurred at another homeless shelter a couple of weeks later. "This place wouldn't even discuss the possibility that what they were doing was illegal," Evans said.
Evans has joined the Stamford Continuum of Care and the Norwalk Continuum of Care; both of these organizations address homelessness and receive funding from HUD. In Stamford Evans co-chairs the Supportive Services work group and in Norwalk she serves on the Supportive Services work group and the Housing work group.
At one statewide meeting she attended, Evans found out that people who are eligible for supportive housing (those affected by mental health issues, substance abuse issues, disabilities or chronic homelessness) would soon be placed on waiting lists through a new online system, called the Housing Management Information System. Victims of domestic violence are exempt from using this system because of confidentiality (it could compromise their safety). Thus, if this plan moves forward, domestic violence victims would have no way to get on the waiting list.
"A number of our clients would be eligible for supportive housing, and I want to make sure the state doesn't ignore them," she said. "Essentially, I'm at the table to provide a voice for victims of domestic violence, to make sure we don't get left out of the equation."
The organization Futures Without Violence cites domestic violence as "a major cause of homelessness in this country"; a problem attributable to the fact that victims have to leave their homes, but too often have no financial resources to pay for housing.
According to the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, a one-night snapshot survey taken in January 2011 revealed an "alarming rise", when compared to a similar 2009 study, in the number of people experiencing long periods of homelessness. Further, the study showed that 37% of the parents counted in Connecticut that night said that domestic violence directly contributed to their homelessness. In Stamford, the study reported that half of the homeless adults in families responded "yes" when asked if they had been in a relationship where they had been physically hurt or felt threatened and 40% said domestic violence had contributed to their homelessness. In Norwalk, 21% of adults in families cited domestic violence as the reason they had left their last residence.
"Finding safe, affordable housing for clients who are leaving our SafeHouses or who are contemplating leaving their abusers is an ongoing and very serious challenge," Evans said. "Homeless shelters and other government-funded supportive housing is not the answer for everyone, by any means. However, it is unconscionable as well as illegal for these places to reject people just because they have had domestic violence in their past."