For the first time since 2009, New York City is planning to add more beds in emergency and transitional shelters for victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is believed to be one of the driving forces behind the city’s skyrocketing homelessness problem, along with mental illness and unemployment.
According to the New York Times, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is allocating about $15 million in emergency funding to strengthen services for domestic violence victims. Currently, there are spaces in emergency and transitional domestic violence shelters for just 8,800 women and children; the city says it aims to ultimately provide spaces for 13,300. (People can only stay in emergency shelters for about 180 days, while transitional shelters don’t have a time limit.)
The city hasn’t created any new emergency beds or transitional housing units for domestic violence victims for six years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration relied on creating more and more for profit shelters while cutting subsidies to help homeless families get into permanent housing.
In the meantime, between 2002 and 2012, the number of homeless families in the city’s shelter system grew sharply; one study found that 23 percent of them became homeless due to domestic violence. And the delays for victims trying to get into more permanent housing could be almost unbelievable: a 2014 DNAInfo report found that nearly 500 people were facing waits as long as a decade to get into housing run by the New York City Housing Authority.
The problems don’t end when survivors make into New York’s shelters: a probe by the city earlier this year found that many of the shelters for families were dangerously unhealthy and unsafe, with lax security, squalid health code violations like vermin, and numerous fire safety violations.
The Associated Press reported in August that skyrocketing rents and long public housing waiting lists meant that an increasing number of women and children have become homeless after fleeing violence. One abuse survivor in New York, Karen, told the AP she and her young son were homeless for three years after she left her battering husband.
“I was desperate to get a place, any place. But it was just impossible,” she told the news agency. “When I was in the shelters, there were so many people like me, who could not find a way to start a real life.” Karen and her son were eventually able to make it into an apartment in public housing, after the De Blasio administration created an emergency rent subsidy program meant to help domestic violence survivors, people facing eviction, and recovering addicts discharged from treatment.
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Karen and her son in their new apartment, Aug. 13, 2015, in New York. The two spent three years homeless after leaving their abuser. Photo via AP Images