Exploring Domestic Violence Survivors’ Need for Transitional Housing

Throughout the United States, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, with women disproportionally more likely to experience fear, concern for their safety, injury, and need for medical care and housing services (Black, Basile, Breiding, Smith, Walters, Merrick, & Stevens, 2011). Research suggests that domestic violence (DV) is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children. The lack of stable housing further increases women’s risk of re-victimization (Jasinski, Wesely, Mustaine, & Wright, 2002; Kannah, Singh, Nemil, & Best, 1992; Wilder Research Center, 2016). The intersection of poverty and DV is particularly impactful to survivors seeking safety and healing from trauma (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005). Economic burdens, including the need for safe housing, limit survivors’ mobility and options when seeking help after victimization. 

Historically, DV shelters have been a safe haven for women escaping violence who are also experiencing housing instability or unsafe housing (Baker, Niolon, & Oliphant, 2009; Panchanadeswaran & McCloskey, 2007). A small but compelling body of evidence has established efficacy for core DV services provided by shelters to increase safety, well-being, and economic stability for survivors (Sullivan, 2016; Sullivan & Virden, 2017a, 2017b). However, on average, DV shelters limit the length of stay to 30 or 60 days, with extensions for certain circumstances (NNEDV, 2016; Sullivan & Virden, 2017a). This time frame is unfortunately too short for many survivors to obtain the resources they need to live safely (Sullivan & Virden, 2017b). 

One approach for DV survivors who require housing assistance and supportive services for a longer period of time is transitional housing (TH). Transitional housing provides an apartment or rental unit, along with rental assistance and supportive services for up to two years, allowing survivors time to work on any barriers they face to securing permanent housing and to heal from the trauma they have experienced (U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women, 2015). TH units may be at a single-site with shared facilities such as laundry rooms (facility-based) or units may be scattered sites allowing survivors to live various places in the community. Supportive services are voluntary but tend to include advocacy, educational and financial support, life skills classes, counseling and peer support (Baker et al., 2009). For single-site programs, these services are often offered on-site. 

Another approach for DV survivors is rapid re-housing (RRH). RRH allows DV survivors to locate their own apartment and to receive rental assistance and supportive services for a period of time. After the rental assistance ends, the survivor can stay in the unit if they can pay the rent on their own. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has stated that “rapid re-housing grant funds may be used to provide short- and/or medium-term rental assistance and accompanying, limited supportive services, as needed, to help an individual or family that is homeless move as quickly as possible into permanent housing and achieve stability in that housing” (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2013, p. 5). Medium assistance is defined as lasting up to 2 years.

Exploring Domestic Violence Survivors’ Need for Transitional Housing 2 of 9 While the efficacy of shelter and other DV services have been evaluated in part (see Sullivan, 2016), almost no research has been conducted assessing transitional or rapid rehousing for DV survivors. Therefore, this study explored the ways in which DV survivors experienced a TH program that they were currently enrolled in, as well as their perceptions about whether RRH would have been a good fit for them given different durations of rental assistance and supportive services.

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