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Housing is Safety

October 2, 2019

This post also appears on the Opportunity Starts at Home website.

Housing is safety for survivors of domestic violence and their children. Access to housing allows victims to break free from abusers and escape homelessness. This is life-changing – and lifesaving – for everyone in the family:

“I noticed a little boy in shelter wasn’t acting himself. I asked him if everything was OK and he replied “No.” He told me he was scared that one day he would have to go back to the home his family had fled. I assured him that when it was time for his family to leave, we would make sure that his new home is safe. He looked at me and said “Like this one?” with a huge smile on his face. I replied “Yes, just like this one.” He gave me a hug. The family’s housing voucher was approved later that day.” – Alabama domestic violence advocate, quoted in Domestic Violence Counts: 24-Hour Census of Domestic Violence Shelters and Services

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – an excellent time to learn about how domestic and sexual violence are key drivers of homelessness for women, LGBTQ individuals, and families, and how housing instability and homelessness exacerbate risks of domestic violence.


Abusers use physical, emotional, economic, and sexual abuse to keep victims them from leaving. Over one million survivors flee to domestic violence shelters each year in pursuit of safer lives. Over 80% of respondents in a study of survivors in domestic violence shelters identified affordable housing as a primary need.

Survivors face specific barriers to accessing housing, such as:

  • Economic abuse. Abusers often control every penny and ruin survivors’ credit scores, leaving many survivors with no resources to obtain housing.
  • Discrimination based on the criminal actions of perpetrators. Perpetrators can cause poor rental histories by damaging housing, engaging in violence, or necessitating calls to 911 for help. This isn’t the victims’ fault, but it often shows up on their rental history.
  • Unique safety and confidentiality needs. Survivors are often escaping life-threatening violence: on average, three women in the US. are killed every day by a former or current intimate partner. Perpetrators often stalk, sabotage, and assault victims after they flee, which is why confidentiality protections in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) are so critical.
  • Lack of domestic violence housing options. Federal priority shifts have resulted in fewer domestic violence transitional housing programs, which has reduced options for survivors. Survivors stay longer in emergency shelters because they cannot access longer-term housing options.

As a result, many survivors face the impossible ‘choice’ between staying with or returning to their abusers or becoming homeless. Every day, however, thousands of abused adults and children are turned away from shelters or denied housing services because domestic violence programs lack adequate resources. Our 13th Annual Domestic Violence Counts Census found that, in just one 24-hour period in 2018, almost 6,972 (76%) of nationwide requests for domestic violence shelter and housing went unmet.


Domestic violence advocates engage with Continuums of Care (CoCs), public housing authorities, and others to advocate for individual survivors and to make systematic changes that reduce barriers for all survivors.

Resources to help victims maintain or access housing include:


To improve access to safe, affordable housing for survivors, housing advocates must work closely with domestic violence advocates – and vice-versa.

  • The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) and our state and national partners work to eliminate barriers to housing for survivors through federal policy and systems advocacy. You can contact us for information and technical assistance.
  • The Domestic Violence and Housing Technical Assistance Consortium has an incredible collection of resources on its website, Safe Housing Partnerships.
  • State and local housing advocates can reach out to their domestic violence coalitions to get connected to service providers or to partner on policy changes.
  • Domestic violence advocates are acutely aware of the dearth of affordable housing options. The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign provides an excellent opportunity for domestic violence advocates to join the cause and advocate for more robust and equitable federal investments in affordable housing.


VAWA is pending reauthorization in the U.S. Congress! Proposed housing provisions will help victims access housing when they must leave a publicly subsidized unit to flee violence. Housing advocates are key partners in this legislation.

On the negative side, HUD has proposed roll backs on civil rights provisions and other initiatives that would make it harder to prove discrimination against survivors and more challenging for immigrants or LGBTQ individuals to access housing. Domestic violence advocates have joined with housing advocates to push back on these changes.

 Working together, we can reduce homelessness in our communities and increase safety for survivors and their families!

National Network to End Domestic Violence participates on the campaign’s Roundtable.  For more information on the Roundtable, click hereFor more information on the National Network to End Domestic Violence, please contact: 

Debbie Fox, MSW, Senior Housing Policy & Practice Specialist@thedebbiefox

Monica McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy