Safe Housing – A Key First Step

Finding shelter for victims with children, particularly for large families, is a challenge for Family Safety Center (FSC) and its partners, but local advocates understand that the alternative is homelessness and continued abuse. Many of the clients who come to FSC seeking emergency shelter are motivated by a desire to remove the children from the abusive environment and ensure their safety. In the year ending June 2018, FSC arranged emergency shelter for over 900 individuals, 61% of them children, for a total of 8,258 bed nights.

In recent months, two things have happened in Memphis/Shelby County to impact the emergency housing situation for domestic violence victims in our community. Beginning in July, the FSC began using Tenant-Based Rental Assistance (TBRA) to help victims. This HUD program provides vouchers for qualified DV victims who need help covering their rent. FSC Emergency Housing Manager Priscilla Blackmon says recipients must apply at least 30% of their monthly income toward housing. Fortunately, the availability of TBRA has coincided with an increased demand for services due to the rollout of the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP).

LAP is a national model focused on reducing intimate partner homicides.  LAP allows law enforcement to assess the danger of a domestic violence victim during a service call.  Once assessed, the victim is connected to an advocate over the phone. The FSC along with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) and the Memphis Police Department (MPD) rolled out LAP in phases, beginning in October 2017. As of June, with two MPD precincts pending, the monthly call volumes indicated a steady increase.

FSC’s creative approach to emergency shelter includes arrangements with a few area hotels and operating several apartments to provide victims with a safe place to go. More “traditional” group shelters are not a solution for everyone and communities across the country are looking for ways to serve an increasingly diverse victim population. FSC now has the ability to serve several groups that face challenges at traditional shelters including men, large families, pregnant women, and members of the LGBTQ community.

According to a survey of over 700 FSC clients, 98% desired non-traditional housing.  FSC continues to work with partner agencies to further expand the variety of shelter and housing options for its clients. FSC Emergency Housing Manager Priscilla Blackmon says the options provide FSC more flexibility. For example, when someone calls the hotline in the middle of the night, there is no time to wait for paperwork at a community shelter so the hotel room fills the immediate need, she says. Depending on the abuser’s situation, whether they are incarcerated or not, a victim may ask to be transferred from one location to another because they are concerned for their safety. “It’s all about making sure our clients feel safe,” says Blackmon. After the initial intake, a case manager will continue to provide support, including connections to other services while in FSC’s care.

Ways to help

Clients who need housing, also need basics like food, toiletries and diapers. “Just think of a typical family with five children, two in diapers, three in school, who leave their home abruptly often after police have been called to a disturbance, “says Blackmon. “What would that family need? We prepare boxes for them with basic necessities to try to get them through the first few days.”

FSC accepts donations of food, toiletries, diapers, and bus passes. Clients are sent to other community agencies for clothing. Financial donations are also accepted. Five days of shelter costs $350. To learn more about how to get your organization involved, or how you can help as an individual, please visit familysafetycenter.org.

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