Researchers at UNC School of Social Work say results from a four-year community needs assessment suggest that Orange County has a critical need for housing services for victims of intimate partner violence and their families. Such services should include a mixture of approaches, including financial assistance, to support survivors at risk of becoming homeless, said Rebecca Macy, the L. Richardson Preyer Distinguished Chair for Strengthening Families.
The findings were released recently as part of a collaborative project supported by Compass Center for Women and Families, the Orange County Rape Crisis Center, and UNC Hospital’s Beacon Child and Family Program. Given that 1 in 4 women in North Carolina experience intimate partner violence (IPV), the community assessment was designed to help ensure that IPV victims are receiving comprehensive services and that feasible solutions are being identified to address their critical needs.
Overall, researchers found that agencies in Orange County are well regarded for providing crisis services, counseling and other assistance to IPV victims, especially given the agencies’ limited funding. The researchers also noted some gaps in services: an increasing need for culturally and linguistically appropriate resources to serve a diverse community; economic empowerment, job training, and self-sufficiency services; programs addressing IPV perpetration; and mental health therapists who are trauma-informed.
The assessment took a deeper look at housing needs in Orange County for IPV survivors and their families because the county currently does not have a dedicated domestic violence shelter. Yet, homelessness and partner violence often occur hand-in-hand, Macy said.
“Housing needs exacerbate the other needs and problems that IPV victims struggle with, such as child care, employment, health, and safety,” said Macy, who worked with SSW assistant professor Cindy Fraga Rizo to conduct the community needs assessment.
However, addressing these safety and housing needs is a complex challenge without any single, straightforward solution, researchers concluded. Many issues aggravate the problem, Macy added, including a lack of affordable housing; insufficient employment opportunities that pay a living wage; limited public transportation; and a public opinion that domestic violence and homelessness are not significant problems in Orange County.
Although shelters are used widely across the country and in North Carolina, such programs do not always offer practical or promising strategies for meeting housing and safety goals, Macy said. Despite their popularity, reports from other communities and previous research have shown that most shelters are expensive to operate. Other studies have produced little evidence that shelters are effective in helping survivors transition quickly from a violent relationship into safer homes.
Through the community assessment, the research team sought to understand what specific resources, programs and services are already working well in Orange County and which ones, including housing, are needed. The team interviewed nearly 200 individuals who have been impacted by domestic violence or have worked with survivors, including court judges, prosecutors, faith leaders, teachers, department of social service workers, mental health professionals, business leaders, and IPV survivors themselves. (The project was supported by a gift from Marilyn Jacobs Preyer and Rich Preyer; the full report is available here: https://tinyurl.com/ocdvnareport)
From these interviews and based on a review of current research, Macy and her team recommended a dynamic mix of strategies to address housing and other needs of IPV victims, including:
• Flexible funding to help survivors with payments for emergency needs, such as car repairs or to purchase a new uniform for a job,
• Services to help individuals with rental assistance and access to supportive or affordable housing programs, and
• Crisis housing to meet immediate needs of a survivor in search of a safe and fully furnished place to stay until more permanent plans are made.
“Ultimately, what we found is that using this three-pronged approach might be most responsive to the needs of victims and their families,” Macy said. “In other words, there is this move to try different economic empowerment interventions and different housing interventions because they seem to have more promise in terms of really helping victims secure safe housing and become economically independent.”
Macy could soon learn more about the effectiveness of these potential solutions. Compass Center recently received funding from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission to offer transitional housing assistance in the form of micro-grants. The agency is also working with a consultant to develop a fundraising plan to support six small apartment sites around the community to create crisis housing opportunities for IPV victims and their families.
Macy and her colleagues are also considering other possible research interventions, including a limited experiment with an area program to see what works and where other improvements are still needed.
“I’m hoping as I disseminate these findings that there may be some other opportunities for research, including in other North Carolina communities,” Macy said. “It does seem like there is some real potential to do something novel for IPV survivors both here in North Carolina and across the country as well.”