Affordable housing in the shadows
Chaffee County has a workforce housing issue that has many faces. One facet of the housing crisis that has remained relatively hidden is housing for those families fleeing domestic violence.
“When people have safe and stable housing, they will opt in for the support services that they need,” said Kimberly Parker, housing victim advocate for the Alliance Against Domestic Abuse. She recently explained the impact of housing on an individual’s psychological and emotional wellbeing.
“Home represents so many things psychologically. We know this from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and from a lot of research done on post-traumatic stress disorder. (The impact of housing) has been proven time and time again.”
The Alliance maintains a variety of housing in order to best support individuals and families in crisis in Chaffee County. One important housing type is missing right now – a confidential, emergency safe house that no one knows is rented by the Alliance.
“The space that we had for many years was recently compromised. In a small community, it makes it harder to keep the house confidential. We look for a home in town, to make it easier for the individual to get to work and to get their children to school. We can’t put them in the middle of nowhere,” said Parker.
Between Jan. 1 and July 31 of this year, 26 adults and 22 children needed safe housing from the Alliance, which translates to 334 safe housing nights during that period. The Alliance also needs longer term, transitional housing for the victims, who often have their children in tow. The need may be for only a few months until they can save up money to rent their own place to live.
Parker said some local landlords and property managers labor under misconceptions and are apprehensive about renting to this population of the community. Occasionally, if a property manager is the avenue to a potential rental, Parker said her organization isn’t able to clearly advocate to the property owner on behalf of the the Alliance. “(The owner) may be concerned about the violent person showing up and disrupting the neighborhood, or they are potentially concerned about ‘drama.’ If I can speak directly to the landowner myself, we can usually talk it through. I just don’t always get that chance.”
Parker explained that often a victim of domestic abuse wants to leave the dangerous place they are in, but when there is no safe place to go with their children, access to affordable housing becomes the barrier to leaving. Speaking of the county’s current issues with affordable housing, Parker said, “We help the victims with the first three to six months of rent. Then they need to be able to sustain a rental long term. It’s really sad when they have a social group and supportive connections here, but they have to move somewhere else because they can’t afford rent.
“We frequently work with a victim to create a safety plan for a long time first. The most dangerous time for a victim is when they are leaving; the most serious injuries and the most homicides occur at that moment.”
The Alliance furnishes the safe home and oversees the space, making sure that all of the victim’s needs are taken care of during the transition. The model that the Alliance uses is patterned after Housing First, a program started in Washington state that quickly and successfully connects homeless individuals and families to permanent housing without first requiring sobriety, treatment or service participation.
Since the program’s inception, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded research to mold the program for victims of domestic abuse, now known as Domestic Violence Housing First.
Chaffee County’s pilot iteration of this program is an innovative forerunner for other domestic violence housing programs nationwide. Parker said the Alliance has funds available to help victims of domestic abuse who need to leave their current living situation.
Unrestricted funds come into the organization from the community via annual local events such as the Monarch Crest Crank, the Alliance Benefit Softball Game, the Buena Vista Chocolate Lover’s Fantasy and individual donations. Federal grant monies come to the Alliance through programs such as the Victims of Crime Act, the Local Victim Assistance and Law Enforcement Program, and the El Pomar Foundation; however, these funds are more restrictive and specific in how they may be used.
The first step in serving a victim is to get them somewhere safe and confidential, said Parker. After that, the Alliance supports the victim’s decision about what he or she wants to do next, asking questions such as: Do they want to stay in the same town? What kind of work do they want to pursue? Do they plan to rent a home or try to purchase something? Staff members and volunteers also assist in creating a budget, improving credit scores and clearing up any prior issues on a background check – charges that may have been misdirected toward them at the time of a domestic violence incident.
The Alliance serves every resident of Chaffee County, including men, women, boys and girls. The organization also provides sanctuary, advocacy and confidentiality for victims of the Latino community and does not work with law enforcement to report undocumented individuals.
“We only contact the police about domestic violence if there is a credible threat of homicide, suicide or child abuse,” said Parker. “If we put time and money into these services, we can save money on law enforcement and emergency medical services.”
Parker said she hopes that landlords contemplating renting to the organization will consider the potential impact on the children in the situation, such as a loss of weekly activities, friends and sense of community should the child be forced to relocate. “With a child, there is long-term impact; we are helping their future adult self. For many children in abusive homes, their current school is their safe place.”
For more information about the Alliance, visit alliancechaffee.org. The hotline for domestic or sexual abuse is 719-539-7347.
Previous articles in this series:
A Place to Call Home, Part 5: Chaffee County landlords weigh in on affordable housing
A Place to Call Home, Part 4: Fear and frustration drive those needing affordable housing
A Place to Call Home, Part 3: Habitat for Humanity can’t afford to build a home in Chaffee County
A Place to Call Home, Part 2: Being homeless brings daily challenges
A Place to Call Home, Part 1: Teacher struggles to find legal, affordable housing