The New York Times
By Nikita Stewart
June 14, 2017
Domestic violence continues to drive homelessness in New York City, ahead of evictions and overcrowding, at a time when the city’s primary shelter system is so taxed that Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to open 90 new facilities over five years.
To address the issue, the city is also bolstering its separate, smaller system of domestic violence shelters by opening 54 additional apartment-style units for families next month. Another 150 emergency beds for individuals are to open later this year.
The city currently has 47 emergency shelters for domestic violence victims whose lives are in danger and seven shelters with apartment-style units for those who are not at imminent risk but need to keep their locations confidential. (About 2,700 people are currently accommodated among both types of shelters.)
But the new beds cannot keep pace with the demand for the shelters, which last year housed a total of 8,786 people, including the children of victims.
About two weeks ago, Safe Horizon, the city’s largest domestic violence shelter provider, sent letters to its residents to inform them that the city was stepping up enforcement of state policy that limits stays to 180 days, and that they should begin looking for alternatives.
No one has been forced out yet, but the aim is to free up capacity for families that need intensive services when their lives are in immediate danger.
The letter urged people to consider moving in with relatives or friends, moving out of the city or finding an apartment to rent. Entering the city’s main shelter system should be “a last resort,” according to the letter.
But frequently, the Department of Homeless Services shelter system, the city’s main system, is the only option.
Safe Horizon had been working with residents individually as they timed out of emergency shelter. But the nonprofit provider recently took the more formal approach of sending a letter to current residents after getting a reminder from the city about the 180-day rule.
Domestic violence victims often cannot stay with family members for fear of running into their abusers, and they lack the income to find permanent housing quickly.
Finding permanent housing presents other challenges as well. A majority of domestic violence victims in the shelter system are under 30, and they often lack the education and work experience that could help them out of homelessness, said Liz Roberts, deputy chief executive of Safe Horizon.
“If you’re 22, we’re your one and only way out in many cases,” she said.
In collaboration with the city, the state expanded the FEPS program to domestic violence victims as part of the settlement of a lawsuit reached this year with the Legal Aid Society and the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed.
Safe Horizon now has a housing specialist who is focused on identifying landlords that have units available, said Kelly Coyne, who oversees its domestic violence shelters.
“This person is really dedicated to going out and meeting with landlords and brokers that are able to give them 10 to 15 apartments a month versus one or two a year,” Ms. Coyne said.