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Safe at Home: It’s Time to Change Our Expectations About Women Leaving Home

February 2, 2022
Alissa Klingbaum

“I was left with two options that didn’t work for me and I had to choose the lesser evil, instead of having to think about what would really work for me and what would facilitate healing.”

This quote tells a story we’ve heard from survivors again and again: there is something missing from the housing options that we offer women experiencing violence.

In 2021, WomanACT conducted research with 74 survivors of intimate partner violence to better understand their housing experiences and preferences when separating from an abusive relationship. We explored the housing options currently available to survivors, what the ideal housing situation would look like when leaving violence, and what survivors would want in place to feel safe and comfortable in independent housing. Across our research, one message became abundantly clear: it’s time to change our expectations about women leaving home in order to be safe.

We know that housing instability when leaving an abusive relationship is a common experience. Survivors often find themselves moving between precarious housing options that don’t meet their needs. The participants in our research were no different. 80% of the survivors we surveyed relocated from their housing when fleeing violence – most often to shelters or staying with family or friends – and 58% reported a loss of control over their housing options at that time.

That’s where Safe at Home programs come in. As a housing model already used in countries around the world, Safe at Home enables survivors to remain in their home with the perpetrator removed or move directly to independent housing through a range of supports that reduce risk and maintain tenancies. Program components include legal orders, home security measures, and service referrals.

Armed with this program blueprint, we set out to learn more: Would this housing model address the gaps we were hearing from survivors? If so, how could this program be designed to best support their needs?

We asked and survivors delivered. We heard that Safe at Home would allow them to stay in a place already suited to their needs and community connections. That Safe at Home would prevent disruptions to their everyday lives. That with the right supports, it would have been their preferred housing option at time of separating from their abusive partner. Justice, control, security, stability. These were just some of the words used to describe the feelings that Safe at Home could provide.

But the housing model wasn’t without concerns. There was the risk of harm from their partner when living alone, having access to only short-term supports when they had long-term needs, and the limited justice system responses that had failed them before. And the biggest concern of all? Affordability. It was no surprise that safe, stable, independent housing simply had too high a price tag for survivors.

Where some see barriers, our participants saw opportunities. We worked with survivors to envision the design of an ideal Safe at Home program, one that could take their concerns and turn them into solutions. The ideas were endless: easily accessible emergency funds, a case manager to coordinate all their needs, trauma-informed housing providers, new home décor to limit reminders of the abuse, education on the right to housing, the list goes on. This told us that with the right supports in place, Safe at Home could be the answer to survivors’ calls for safe and affordable housing. That’s why 86% of participants who did not have Safe at Home available to them would have wanted it as an option to choose from when leaving violence.

WomanACT is ready to bring these ideas into action. Over the next two years, we’ll be working to assess and strengthen the foundation of public policies, funding streams, and social norms that are needed to make Safe at Home a reality.

It’s time to shift our expectations about survivors leaving home to reach safety. It’s time for bold, rights-based solutions that put survivors first. It’s time for Safe at Home.

The Safe at Home project conducted community-based research into policies, programs and practices that support women to remain in their own home or independent accommodation when leaving a violent relationship. You can read our full set of findings in our research report “A Place of My Own”: Survivors’ Perspectives on the Safe at Home Housing Model

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