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Family In Flood

Centering Economic Justice

By: Carmen Golay, HSCADV Trainer

Published on: April 5, 2018

In early March about 200 advocates from across the nation and territories gathered in Las Vegas for two full days. Our dialogue centered around helping survivors of domestic violence regain stability after disasters, through housing, employment, credit repair, corporate partnerships and many other economic justice topics. I attended many relevant and useful sessions but for this summary I want to highlight two: the Intersection of Domestic Violence and Disaster and VOCA & Housing Successes.

How prepared are domestic violence programs for a natural disaster?

How much do disaster responders understand about the dynamics of domestic violence?

These questions were at the center of a project that New York and New Jersey put together after Superstorm Sandy. There is a free downloadable curriculum and toolkit available that covers two sets of populations: training for advocates on how to prepare for disaster and training for disaster responders on dynamics of domestic violence. What we know is that disasters make incidents of domestic violence increase. A study covering the National Domestic Violence Hotline shows this, especially the Missouri Floods of 1993 where hotline calls increased by 111%. Dynamics of domestic violence are often exasperated by the disaster- isolation is increased for victims; social networks are disrupted or destroyed; disaster response may only focus on “acute needs” and the intimate partner violence becomes invisible. Stories surfaced of abusers taking advantage of evacuations and taking children, pets, even taking FEMA housing vouchers. In disaster zones legal services are often interrupted and not available so survivors feel they have no recourse for protecting themselves. It was recommended that state coalitions lead conversations with member programs to develop teams and protocols in the event of a natural disaster. We discussed questions such as:

Who will answer the hotline if your building is evacuated? Do you have a budget for disaster supplies and replenishing those supplies yearly? What does a disaster safety plan look like? Does your program have volunteers who can help if your location is a safe one to use as a larger shelter for the community in the case of a disaster?

Conversations with advocates from different regions highlighted different needs, and can help us think through our own program needs. Since Superstorm Sandy and the development of the above linked curriculum, so many other disasters have occurred that continue to inform our movement’s work. Post hurricane Harvey, for instance, most domestic violence shelters in that region of Texas were not physically damaged. But the impact on staff, community and custody/legal arrangements with clients were major; including evacuations to large centers where survivors and their children were vulnerable to being found. In Puerto Rico, many organizations were going through financial crisis before hurricane Maria and then every single shelter was destroyed. There is still ongoing lack of electricity in many parts of Puerto Rico, which prevents advocates from fully operating their programs.  As your state coalition, we’d like to start having these conversations with programs and if you are interested in getting more in-depth training on disaster protocols, please let us know.

The entire conference had an impact, but the session on VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) and housing was especially relevant. The Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence shared their perspectives and successes using a “housing first” model for addressing domestic violence. The philosophy is summarized this way:

“…the approach focuses on getting survivors of domestic violence into stable housing as quickly as possible, then providing necessary support as they rebuild their lives. This philosophy is low barrier and with focus on housing first versus housing ready. It was started in Washington State in 2009 and expanded in 2011 to include more rural areas…” 

There is a research portion of these housing first projects that is being done by the Michigan State University Research Consortium on Gender Based Violence. They are looking at projects that are using flexible VOCA funding combined with brief advocacy to assess impact on reducing homelessness. The potential for this model is providing options for survivors who are relatively stable but have a crisis and the flex funding is far cheaper than shelter. In the programs who use the VOCA flexible funding money it has been used to for rental assistance, security deposits, utilities, voluntary cost of childcare and counseling and some relocation expenses. Challenges noted by all the programs doing housing first models are that there is a lack of affordable housing available, seasonal housing issues (such as places that have resorts/tourism) and working with landlords on confidentiality issues around housing survivors of domestic violence. Still, there are many successes and we’d like to start the conversation with member programs around how we could make a program like housing-first work here in Hawaii. We have support from national technical assistance providers such as the Safe Housing Partnerships and relationships with states where these programs are working.

There were many more sessions at the Economic Justice Summit that were engaging and relevant for our work. We discussed serving immigrant survivors, corporate partnerships such as Allstate Foundation and placing our work in the larger context of policy change that has an intersectional framework. I look forward to continuing this conversation and providing training on these topics and more. For more information on what National Network to End Domestic Violence is working on in the area of economic justice you can visit them here:

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