To help families in crisis find safety, a new program offers up to six months of rental assistance and help meet related needs.

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SARAH and her 4-year-old daughter, Isabelle, don’t look like the homeless people you would typically see on the streets of Seattle. You wouldn’t pass by them on your way to work or see them at a freeway onramp.

But just last month, Sarah and Isabelle were days away from being evicted and living in their car. Why? After abusing and controlling them for years, Sarah’s husband stormed out, taking all of their money and leaving them without any means to pay rent. Like so many domestic-violence survivors, Sarah and Isabelle felt hopeless and afraid.

Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and children in the United States today. National programs report that if domestic-violence victims can’t secure safe housing after separating from their abusive partners, 60 percent will return to their abuser and 38 percent will become homeless — living on the street or in their cars.

Right here in King County, the supply of affordable-housing units can meet only 25 percent of the need of low-income families. As rents skyrocket and already lengthy waiting lists for subsidized housing grow longer still, the safety net for families in crisis continues to shrink. Last month, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared a state of emergency regarding homelessness in the region.

Barbara Langdon is the executive director of LifeWire. She has been a leading voice and advocate for domestic-violence victims’ support for more than 30 years. Stephen Norman is the executive director of the King County Housing Authority.
Barbara Langdon is the executive director of LifeWire. She has been a leading voice and advocate for domestic-violence victims’ support for more than 30 years. Stephen Norman is the executive director of the King County Housing Authority.

As executive directors of two leading organizations in King County, we know that stable, permanent housing is the foundation of safety and self-sufficiency. However, as federal support for housing programs has shrunk, local governments have struggled to keep up with our community’s needs and, in particular, the unique needs of domestic-violence survivors and their children.

So often, survivors face significant barriers in accessing housing. Years of financial abuse can lead to poor credit and eviction filings, making it nearly impossible to pass background checks for new housing.

In response to this growing crisis, LifeWire and the King County Housing Authority (KCHA) are proud to partner on an innovative new program to help domestic-violence survivors become quickly and safely housed: the Rapid Re-Housing Program.

In past years, both of our organizations have been involved in launching new programs designed to prevent homelessness for families in crisis. Since 1993, KCHA has used the Section 8 housing choice voucher program to house survivor families in partnership with three domestic-violence agencies in King County: LifeWire, DAWN and the YWCA.

As a participant in the Gates Foundation-funded Domestic Violence Housing First initiative, LifeWire created the Housing Stability Program, which uses a pool of flexible funds to pay for whatever a family needs (such as car repairs, security deposits and lock changes) to help them retain or obtain housing. Through this program, more than 90 percent of the hundreds of families LifeWire served have remained safe and stably housed.

Now, LifeWire and KCHA are collaborating on a new Rapid Re-Housing Program specifically for domestic-violence survivors. Thanks to the flexibility provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Moving to Work program — a demonstration program that enables KCHA to more flexibly use federal housing assistance to support locally designed initiatives — KCHA is able to make a five-year, $1 million investment that will enable LifeWire to offer up to six months of rental assistance and other stability-related supports, such as rent-application fees and moving costs, to hundreds of families. These funds, along with LifeWire’s advocacy, will help families reach safety and avoid homelessness altogether.

Four months into this program, we are already seeing the benefits. Sarah and Isabelle were able to pay past-due rent and avoid becoming homeless. By moving into a safe, new home at a confidential location, they will no longer live in fear. The program’s short-term financial assistance will help them pay their monthly rent while LifeWire works with Sarah to secure a good job. After a few months, Sarah will be able to pay for the rent on her own.

For domestic-violence survivors like Sarah and Isabelle, obtaining safety and stability is essential to remaining free from abuse and healing from its effects. This new program enables LifeWire and KCHA to stretch federal assistance to support more survivors more effectively. Together, we are providing families a stable foundation on which safe futures and strong communities can be built.