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Domestic violence still leading driver of city’s shelter population: report

October 28, 2019 Alex Williamson
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A new report from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Office found that domestic violence remains far and away the leading cause of homelessness in the city, and that the number of families entering shelters due to domestic violence has risen dramatically over the past half decade.

Forty-one percent of the people entering the city’s Department of Homeless Services shelters from July 2017 to July 2018 — more than 12,500 people — did so following a domestic violence incident, according to the report, which analyzed Department of Social Services data from 2013 to 2018. The number of families leaving homes with a history of domestic violence and entering the shelter system rose by 44 percent in that time period.

The report found that the second leading cause of homelessness in the city is eviction, which accounted for 27 percent of the population entering DHS shelters.

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The face of homelessness in New York City today is a single mother with young children. According to the DHS, 70 percent of the people in the shelter system are families, and one-third are headed by a working adult — usually a single mom. Nationwide, around 80 percent of homeless mothers have experienced domestic violence at some point in the past.

The number of survivors entering DHS shelters is especially staggering considering the city’s Human Resources Administration already runs an entirely separate shelter system for domestic violence-related homelessness, the largest in the country, with more than 2,500 beds across 55 facilities.

According to Carol Corden, executive director of the nonprofit New Destiny Housing, domestic violence survivors in the general shelter system are nothing new, but the agencies may now be tracking them better and making more referrals, causing what looks like a spike on paper.

“We knew there were domestic violence survivors in the DHS system, and there wasn’t a great way to count them,” said Corden. “In the past we’ve always assumed domestic violence is undercounted, and that’s generally true because there’s no advantage to disclosing your situation. There’s shame and stigma.”

A better tracking and referral system may not account for the entire rise in the number of survivors in DHS shelters, however. Data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services shows that the number of sex offenses, assaults and violated orders of protection have increased every year since 2009.

Under state law, domestic violence survivors can remain in HRA shelters for 180 days, but after that they have few options if they haven’t secured housing. Those leaving HRA shelters were almost twice as likely to land in a DHS-run shelter, geared toward the general homeless population rather than toward survivors of domestic violence, than in subsidized housing, according to the comptroller’s report.

Thirty percent of survivors in Brooklyn enter a DHS shelter after an HRA shelter, a rate exceeded only in the Bronx, where the statistic is 38 percent. East New York, Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant are the Brooklyn neighborhoods where the highest number of survivors transition to DHS shelters after domestic violence shelters.

The steady rise in market-rate rents combined with a declining number of affordable housing units makes finding a place to live more difficult for those fleeing domestic violence. Between 2005 and 2017, the number of apartments in the city renting for over $2,700 a month more than doubled, while 400,000 units with monthly rents under $1,000 disappeared from the market, according to a report the Comptroller’s Office published last year.

A shortage of good-paying jobs also contributes, according to Corden.

“The job growth in New York City has really been in the service sector, which is not well-paid,” she said. “If you’re pouring coffee or making beds, or you’re a home health aide, you’re not making enough to pay for an apartment in New York City, especially if you have children.”

Domestic violence survivors receive priority status for public housing applications, but the number of applicants with or without that status far exceeds the number of available units. As of March, more than 181,000 families were on NYCHA’s waiting list.

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  1. Tricia bruce

    My name is Trisha I am a survivor of domestic violence and a fire that occurred in my home because of the unfortunate circumstances I ended up in a DV shelter stayed there for a while then I don’t know where I was transferred on Valentine’s day with no explanation my kids and I suffer from PTSD I’ve been waiting for supportive housing for nycha for section 8 you name it I’ve applied right now I’m waiting for a place me and my children could finally call home stability a foundation I work for services for the underserved and I feel like I’m being undeserved I work for Catholic charities my daughter 23 years of age she’s a teacher’s assistant rent in New York City for single woman is unjust I just feel like good homeless community is getting bigger and bigger like the coronavirus I can’t tell which is worse and if I continue this is going to turn into a book a bestseller because there’s so much things that I would like to talk about in topics that I would like to shed light on like the forgotten families in New Jersey I was also part of the soda program that was the reason why I’m back into the shelter system because of those landlords that we should be called slumlord