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What It Takes Blog Series #1: Finding Safety vs. Leaving, the Case for Safety Planning

Note: This is the first post in DASH’s ongoing What It Takes blog series, which examines and explains the various factors that make getting safe from abuse so difficult. Each post explores factors that survivors have to navigate on their journey to finding safety. Learn more about the campaign at the What It Takes page, and please spread the word: WhatItTakesDC. 

Most people think that in order to get safe from abuse, victims of domestic violence should just leave their abusers, that separation is the solution. The reality however, is that leaving is a complicated, dangerous process that takes time and planning.

At DASH we don’t require survivors of domestic violence to leave their abuser in order to access our services. We do this because empowerment is an integral part of our model, but also because it just doesn’t work, mandating the behavior of adults rarely does. Instead, we focus on safety, we want the victims we work with to be as safe as possible in whatever choice they make. For some this is controversial – but for us it’s a natural component of the culture of trust we’ve built at DASH.


For this reason, we are very intentional about the language in the What It Takes campaign, we want to address the misconception that all victims of abuse “should just leave,” but we also want to push back on the idea that leaving is the best option for everyone. It’s important to acknowledge the reality that not everybody leaves – and it is just as vital for those who stay in abusive relationships to find safety. Our Clinical Director, Emma Kupferman put it best when she said,  “If we are really going to fight the epidemic of domestic violence, we have to be there to support all survivors, not just those who have left.”

Leaving is the most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence, it takes planning and an immense amount of foresight. Before leaving, survivors need access to housing, stable finances, important documents and reliable transportation among others. Another big barrier for survivors who want to leave is fear – and for good reason, 75% of domestic violence related homicides occur when the survivor is trying to leave. In these situations the abuser will go to extreme lengths in order to maintain power over their partner.


For survivors who decide to stay in their relationships – and many do – safety planning is crucial. Safety plans are based on the individual situation of the survivor, there is no one size fits all plan for staying safe. Survivors are asked to think about where they feel safe in their home, different things that trigger their abuser as well as people they trust that they can reach out to in emergencies. An example of a safety plan can be found here.

We are not advocating that survivors stay in abusive relationships – we are advocating for support and access to services for all survivors, no matter their situation.

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Safe Housing Champion: Mary Braxton

Building Brick Award

We are excited to award Mary Braxton, Assistant Community Manager at Edgewood Commons, with the “Building Brick” award. In construction, the “building brick” is that which makes up the substance of the structure. Mary Braxton’s help to ensure that the families at DASH are provided with more than just a safe place to run, but the ability to establish new homes – quickly, easily, and comfortably, the way a home should be – helps changes lives.

How did you first become connected to DASH?20150406_071949

My first connection with DASH was around the beginning of 2014 while working at another Edgewood Managed property. I was online researching housing programs for victims of Domestic Violence to assist a resident that was dealing with a serious domestic issue with her family and I came across a link (http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/dashs-empowerment-project-rapid-re-housing-for-survivors-of-domestic-violen ). I clicked on the link  it was an article about DASH. I then googled DASH to get the contact information. I reached out to DASH to get more information and I started referring residents to them.

What has DASH’s impact been on the survivors of domestic violence you work with?

DASH has had a tremendous impact on the survivors I work with. The financial assistance that DASH has provided to survivors it has enable them to maintain their affordable housing and most are now receiving counseling from other sources.  Unfortunately, due to the type of work I do I’m unable to provide specific stories.

From your perspective as a property manager, what are some of the unique challenges that survivors of domestic violence face when looking for affordable housing?  

The greatest challenge survivors face is having good credit. Many of the survivors I work with depended on their abusers for financial assistance to pay their rent . Once the abuser leaves then the survivor can no longer rely on that source for assistance. Unfortunately, it’s a trickle-down effect and they’re not able to pay the rent on time and as a result I have to sue them. Every time they’re sued it’s reported to the credit bureau and then their credit is negatively impacted. When the survivor goes to look for affordable housing the first thing that is checked is their rental and credit history. Most HUD funded properties will not accept applicants with negative rental history.

Why do you think that safe housing is an important service for survivors of domestic violence in DC?

I think safe housing is an extremely important service for survivors because it allows them time to get themselves together and reflect on their situation. Without  safe housing they will not be able to move forward with their recovery.

Home. Means. Safety.

(Cross-posted with National Alliance to End Homelessness Blog)

By Peg Hacskaylo, Executive Director, District Alliance for Safe Housing

Trudy[1] had been living in an apartment with her boyfriend and their son for about 2 years when the abuse from her boyfriend became more frequent and more intense. She wanted to move out but couldn’t afford to live on her income from her job as a cashier at a local retail store. One night, when her boyfriend had another violent outburst, Trudy called the police. When they arrived, an advocate was with them to help her determine what services she needed. She said she couldn’t stay in their home because, if her boyfriend went to jail, she couldn’t afford the rent and, if her boyfriend was released, she wouldn’t feel safe there. So the advocate placed her and her son in a hotel paid for by compensation available to crime victims. She could stay at the hotel for up to 30 days while she tried to figure out what she would do.

By her second week in the hotel, Trudy had called every resource given to her to find another place to live, to no avail. She finally went to the city’s intake center for homeless families but they told her that she wasn’t considered homeless because she wasn’t living in a shelter or on the streets. By the end of the month, Trudy went back to live with her boyfriend, who had been released from jail, because she had run out of time and had nowhere else to go.

But when her boyfriend’s abuse continued, Trudy again began searching for another place to live. She reached out to the local battered women’s shelters and was eventually able to get space for herself and her son for up to 90 days. When her time there was about to run out, she again went to the central intake center, only to be told that she was still ineligible for housing because the shelter she was living in wasn’t part of the city’s homeless housing system. Trudy left the shelter to live in a friend’s basement until she could figure out her next step.

Stories like Trudy’s are all too common in the District of Columbia and throughout the U.S. Women are one of the fastest growing groups of homeless people in the country (Goodman, Fels, & Glen, 2011), and domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among single women and women with children (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2005). In one large-scale study, 92 percent of homeless mothers reported experiencing sexual or physical abuse in their lifetimes (Browne & Bassuk, 1997). The limited availability of safe and affordable housing options frequently results in women falling into homelessness after exiting abusive situations (National Institute of Justice, 2008), and homelessness dramatically increases their risk of suffering episodes of sexual assault and other kinds of abuse (Goodman, Fels, & Glen, 2011).

When we founded the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) in 2006, our initial plan was to create a safe emergency-to-transitional housing facility for survivors of domestic violence. At the time, the demand for housing for victims displaced from their homes was overwhelming and the resources to meet the need were scarce. The D.C. police annually received over 30,000 calls for domestic violence incidents and approximately 1,200 families were being placed in hotels for lack of available emergency shelter beds. There were then a total of 48 beds for women and children escaping abuse and fewer than 200 units of transitional and long-term housing for families exiting shelter.

We soon realized, therefore, that our primary objective would help only a fraction of those who needed it. We spoke to women on a daily basis who told us that they needed help not just accessing safe housing programs, but permanent safe housing. We heard from advocates that survivors needed help keeping their permanent subsidized housing or getting into affordable, rental housing. We needed a broader strategy to solve this problem.

Our strategy, a combined effort on three fronts to achieve greater housing accessibility for survivors from shelters to permanent housing, involves:

  • Creating additional safe housing
  • Facilitating access to existing housing programs
  • Preventing victims’ fall into homelessness

Under this strategy we worked with homeless and housing providers to ensure their housing was accessible and safe for victims. We worked with landlords to ensure they didn’t inadvertently discriminate against victims in rental housing. And we worked with domestic violence service providers to help them advocate for victims in the District’s complex housing system. As our strategy developed, so did our programs, and soon we had a continuum of housing support for survivors, wherever they turn for help.

Notably, our strategy has evolved into something more than just creating more, and more responsive, housing for women and families. It’s become about changing the way we see the problem, which lies directly at the intersection of domestic violence and homeless/housing services. Because at that nexus there is a disconnect that creates a sort of double-jeopardy for victims – putting them further at-risk of homelessness and abuse. We learned that domestic violence service providers and homeless service providers function in numerous parallel ways – in the same jurisdiction, with many of the same sources of funding, and almost always serving the same clients – but generally remain siloed and apart.

Domestic violence service providers traditionally focus on crisis intervention with victims, with an emphasis on protecting them from the threat of violence. Homeless and housing providers traditionally have focused on protecting their programs from the potential for transience, in the belief that survivors of domestic violence won’t last in their programs because they will leave to reconcile with their abusers, and the threat of violence that survivors present, thereby screening survivors out of their programs. While these concerns may be legitimate, they may also serve to keep women in perpetually unstable situations or force them to return to abusive homes for lack of other safe housing options.

Fortunately, with the advent of Rapid Re-Housing and Trauma-Informed service models, both domestic violence and housing/homeless service providers have excellent tools to begin addressing this gap. At DASH, we help families move into permanent housing units straight from crisis and bypass the range of emergency, transitional, and permanent housing programs, allowing them to “transition in place” and facilitating moves for families at-risk of imminent violence to other units within the city.  We also work with survivors to help them cope with the trauma they’ve experienced and regain a sense of self-determination. And all of this is accompanied by constant Wellness and Safety planning to help survivors effectively ensure their own safety from abuse.

The elimination of homelessness is the express goal of advocates, funders, and governments across the country and has been for a long time now. And while a good deal of progress has been made in getting individuals and families housed, preventing their fall into homelessness, and increasing the availability of options across the housing spectrum, victims of domestic and sexual violence have, until now, seemed to defy conventional wisdom. With these new models of service, this doesn’t need to be the case – not for Trudy or anyone else.

[1] Not her real name, based on a true story.

DASH and the National Alliance to End Homelessness

This week, DASH staff presented three workshops at the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference, exposing homeless advocates from across the country to DASH’s unique approach to safe housing for survivors. The conference, which featured over seventy workshops for the thousands of attendees, provided an excellent opportunity for DASH staff to gain valuable insight from many of the nation’s leading experts on homelessness, as well as to impart their own wisdom. Moreover, due to DASH’s status as a nationally-recognized best practice model organization, they were able to emphasize the intersection of domestic violence and homelessness to conference attendees, using their expertise to educate many homeless advocates with little knowledge on how to work with domestic violence survivors.

DASH Community Housing Director Shakeita Boyd

Prior to the conference’s official start on Tuesday, DASH’s Community Housing Program Director Shakeita Boyd presented a section on safety planning in the “Improving Safety and Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence” workshop.   DASH offered guidance to housing providers on how to support survivors in their program to plan for safety.  As survivors move through the homeless system, it is imperative that homeless organizations are aware of the dynamics of domestic violence and are able to address emotional and physical safety concerns and assist survivors using a trauma informed lens. This pre-conference session offered homeless service providers an innovative approach to effectively address the needs of survivors in their housing programs. Other highlights of this session included; best practices for case management and developing successful organizational partnerships to benefit survivors.

DASH Housing Resource and Training Manager LaToya Young

Later in the week, Shakeita also presented “Selling Your Program: Landlord Engagement and Rental Assistance Strategies.” This session focused on the importance of developing strong landlord relationships in order to foster rapid rehousing. Shakeita discussed successful elements of DASH’s Empowerment Program, which is a national model for providing scattered site, apartment-based long-term housing for survivors.  Attendees learned about developing successful marketing tools such as short-term rental subsidies to encourage landlord cooperation and engagement.

DASH Housing Resource and Training Manager LaToya Young

Finally, on Wednesday, Housing Resource and Training Manager LaToya Young presented “Public Housing Authorities: Partnering to End Homelessness,” a discussion on the relationship between community housing assistance programs and public housing authorities (PHAs). The session emphasized strategies that many PHAs and community programs have used to develop partnerships to assist homeless families.  LaToya discussed how she partners with the DC Public Housing Authority (DCHA) to address the unique housing barriers survivors face, including facilitating safety transfers  and training DCHA staff on housing protections afforded to survivors.

Even when domestic violence was not the primary focus of the workshops they presented in, Shakeita and LaToya were able to educate attendees on various ways housing, homelessness and domestic violence intersect. DASH is grateful for this opportunity to share our message to so many homeless advocates and to create new partnerships to ensure that safe housing is a reality for everyone.

Spotlight on our Staff: LaToya Young

LaToya Young, DASH Housing Resource and Training Manager

Since 2007, LaToya Young has worked as the Housing Resource & Training Manager at the District Alliance for Safe Housing in Washington, DC. A native Washingtonian, she works with survivors and service providers – some people coming for assistance directly from the street, some who are referred to DASH. She also works with DASH’s innovative program, the Empowerment Project, where she connects with landlords and realtors to help them understand domestic violence and consider partnering with DASH in locating affordable, safe housing for clients. Additionally, she leads a host of different kinds of trainings for DASH.

Young works with all new domestic violence advocates in the District through the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She teaches these newcomers about the local and federal protections that survivors have under the Violence Against Women Act, and helps new advocates get acclimated to the work and the field. Through DASH, she also leads a DV 101 class on the barriers that domestic violence survivors face, and how individuals and communities can support them. DASH and the Housing Resource Center also point housing programs and staff to Young’s trainings, showing people what is available for survivors and pointing out emerging options.

Interally, she trains all DASH staff on housing resources and process. People know of Young and DASH’s work through community outreach and education, as she and other staff regularly attend a host of community meetings. There have also been a lot of referrals to lead service providers to Young. Requests for training are also made through the DASH website. “People are fascinated by how DASH works, and want to learn more,” says Young.

But what makes DASH so different in terms of its community work to address domestic violence? “It is really the culture,” Young explains. “We have few barriers – really none – for survivors interested in accessing our services. We allow survivors to be self-governing. We know that when given the chance, these clients can make good decisions, and are not interested in taking that power away from them. Power was already taken from them in the abuse, and we don’t want to do that again as an organization.”
Before coming to DASH, Young worked for three years at a “Housing First” organization, helping chronically mentally ill people to secure permanent housing. It gave her the expertise she is currently able to use in her work with DASH. She is very passionate about her work with survivors.

“What I also love about DASH is that while we are new in the field of dv prevention, we are very open to learning from and helping others in the movement and the field,” Young shares. “We are also committed to learning from survivors and working with them to help break the cycle of violence and create healthy lives. We are unique in how we as a staff come to understand social and economic justice, and how we commit, as a staff, to learning and growing.”

Contact DASH for more information on participating in one of Ms. Young’s trainings.

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