By: Michelle Polek, Domestic Violence Prevention Specialist
and other SafeChoice advocates
A few weekends ago, YWCA Clark County advocates joined the Bring Vancouver Home campaign to knock on doors and share information about Proposition 1 with our community. Proposition 1 is a ballot measure that would create an Affordable Housing Fund, which would help to create safe, affordable housing for all of Vancouver’s residents.
I had some great conversations with folks who were interested in learning more. An interaction that particularly stuck with me, however, was with one gentleman who appeared to be quite skeptical when I told him that 2200 kids in the Evergreen and Vancouver school districts are currently homeless. His disbelief seemed to only increase when I further explained that many of those who are homeless (including families with children) are fleeing domestic violence. At SafeChoice, our domestic violence advocates regularly meet with survivors who are looking for and cannot find safe housing – for themselves and for their children.
I’m not sure that either of us walked away from that conversation feeling fully satisfied. This interaction really reminded me about the importance of raising awareness about how the issues of domestic violence and safe housing are intertwined.
One of the most frustrating widespread myths about domestic violence is the idea that survivors can simply leave their abusive partners. Not only does this myth place the burden of stopping violence on survivors (rather than holding abusers accountable), it ignores a very basic fact: oftentimes, survivors have limited funds and nowhere to go. And in Vancouver, the housing crisis means that survivors and their families have especially few options.
The reality that many survivors face is a choice between sleeping in their car (if they have one), staying in an unsafe environment, or returning to an abusive relationship. I think about the many folks that I have worked with who only had that option, and as an advocate this feels helpless. As a society, we continue to send the message out that if you just leave your abuser, then it will all be ok. Advocates and survivors alike know that it is not that simple.
-Caroline Bartlett, Director of SafeChoice
At SafeChoice we are committed to providing empowering services for survivors of domestic violence. Our community office is a safe space for survivors to tell their stories and talk about how to keep themselves and their children safer. When safe housing is a survivor’s need, however, all too often the support that we can provide is limited. Housing support available within the community is limited, too.
The housing crisis has escalated in the eleven years I have been an advocate with SafeChoice. Our program participants have rental barriers because of domestic violence, or are financially unable to find affordable housing due to domestic violence. There are few affordable places to go, and very little financial help to lift them out of a crisis. We need solutions to keep families safe.
- Margo Priebe, Legal Advocacy Specialist
I am incredibly proud of the work that SafeChoice does to support survivors. I have seen our advocates spend hours calling on countless resources to secure even one night of safe housing so that a survivor and her child would not have to sleep in the rain. Half of the people who stay in our shelter currently are able to exit to transitional or permanent housing. Although this statistic might seem low, in our community it demonstrates survivors’ determination to find safe housing as well as our SafeChoice shelter staff’s tireless advocacy. Our shelter advocates work around the clock to look for resources, provide support for survivors, and collaborate with community partners to help reduce survivors’ barriers. Even then, a 60-day stay is often not long enough to secure housing. Fifteen percent exit to other shelters or to an unknown location. Thirty-five percent are able to find space with friends or family, but for many this is by no means a permanent or even safe solution.
Oftentimes, due to the isolation by the abuser, these are complicated relationships. There are resentments and safety concerns that might not have been considered prior to moving in together – are they all at risk of abuse now? The kids don’t feel like they’re in a stable place and can have troubles at school and with their safe parent. Getting out sooner rather than later is a priority. Having affordable housing is a key element to helping families become free of abuse.
-Vicki Hipp, DSHS Advocacy Specialist
Supporting Proposition 1 is one concrete thing that you can do to support survivors of domestic violence. If you live in Vancouver, vote for Prop 1 on November 8th. Encourage your friends and family to do so as well. Reach out to people in your communities and help them understand Prop 1 – most people who learn more about this measure will then support it! You can find out more about the specifics at the Bring Vancouver Home website. If you are interested in helping to go door-to-door to raise awareness about Prop 1, there are weekend shifts every weekend from now until November 6th. You can also volunteer to phone bank or put up a sign in your yard – sign up at Bring Vancouver Home.
Together, we can empower survivors in Vancouver by allowing them to have more safe options for themselves and their children. We can show that our community values everyone’s right to a home free of violence.