There is a persistent perception in the community that domestic violence is a crisis in the lives of survivors, a short term problem that is addressed through short term solutions like shelter and law enforcement/legal interventions.
While emergency shelter and crisis intervention are critical services to the community, stopping the immediate cycle of violence and keeping people safe, survivors face chronic, long term obstacles that require long term services. SPAN’s Emergency Shelter and crisis intervention services save lives, particularly as we see a sharp increase in the number of high-risk perpetrators shelter residents are fleeing in recent years.
But it is SPAN’s Transitional Services Program and that give both survivors and the community the best Return on Investment (ROI) in terms of positive outcomes and the prevention of future violence. The Transitional Services Program provides a comprehensive continuum of long-term holistic programming that is based on research demonstrating that there are proven “pathways to well-being” for survivors of domestic violence and their children. These pathways include simple things most of us take for granted: feeling safe in our own homes, feeling in charge of our own lives, being connected to people who care about us.
Survivors are referred to SPAN’s Transitional Services Program from other SPAN services and from other community non-profits and human services agencies. In 2016 225 adults and 53 children participated in Transitional Services programming, a 28% increase over 2015. This is reflection of the tough obstacles survivors and their children face as they work to become safe and stable. Boulder and Broomfield counties have some of the highest costs for housing, transportation and child care in the Front Range, and the Transitional Services Program staff work with survivors to identify what kinds of resources and support they need.
Access to affordable housing is one of the most frequently cited needs by SPAN clients, second only to safety planning. This comes as no surprise as many of us have been impacted by the rapidly rising cost of housing in the Front Range. 55% of all renters in Boulder County are housing-cost-burdened, meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on housing. Nearly one-third are severely cost-burdened, spending more than 50% of their income on rent. In the post-flood Boulder County housing environment rental vacancy rates have fallen below 1% and rents have increased an astonishing 32% since 2013, with a median rent of $2,000 per month for a two-bedroom unit. High rents in Boulder County have impacted neighboring communities. The city of Broomfield now has the third highest rental rate in the state, behind the city of Boulder and Highlands Ranch!
In light of such intense market pressures, traditional housing vouchers systems simply cannot meet the needs of domestic violence survivors and their children. In 2016 two-thirds of the survivors exiting SPAN’s Emergency Shelter had successfully applied to local affordable housing programs, yet few found housing. 38% of the families that were approved for housing support were unable to actually secure housing before their voucher expired. Thus low income survivors often flee their abusers, only to find themselves living in cars or motels, staying with friends and cycling in and out of shelters. Those fleeing violence and chaos are also more likely to have a problem securing housing because of their unique and often urgent circumstances, poor credit, rental and employment histories and limited income. Language and cultural barriers, as well as abusers efforts to isolate their partners, make survivors even more vulnerable to social and economic isolation. Lacking the social capital or supports to buffer critical life events, survivors and their children will all too frequently find themselves on a pathway to chronic instability and homelessness.
One example of SPAN’s work to address this critical need is the Transitional Housing Stability Project (THSP). In October 2016, SPAN was awarded a three-year/$350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice/Office on Violence Against Women to address the stark realities of our community’s real estate market and support survivors in dynamic and holistic ways. These grant funds will be available to help survivors maintain stability and find permanent housing, through rent subsidies, advocacy and intensive case management. The grant also supports housing for survivors who, because of age, income, immigration status, criminal record, etc., do not qualify for traditional housing programs.
SPAN’s Transitional Services Program is client-centered, driven by the needs of survivors and their children. Housing advocacy, helping people identify and apply for every available resource, working with other agencies, providing legal resources, counseling for individuals and families, skill building workshops and job training – all of these and more fall under the umbrella of SPAN’s Transitional Services Program. National data as well as our internal data supports this approach. A study following 278 clients from a Midwest domestic violence program found that after two years of intensive support a majority of study participants had a decrease in physical violence and depression, increased quality of life, and higher social support. In 2016,, 93% of SPAN’s Transitional Services clients who graduated from the two-year program had found permanent, stable housing by the time they exited SPAN’s services, 89% had secured stable employment, and 28% were enrolled in school. Across all programs, 95% of SPAN’s clients reported in anonymous surveys that they felt safer, more connected to community resources and less isolated because of their experiences in SPAN’s services.