Domestic violence victims living in rural communities such as those on Eastern Shore, face many challenges including lack of affordable housing, limited child care resources, low paying jobs, lack of public transportation and lack of affordable health care. These challenges are compounded by the dynamics of domestic violence because victims feel responsible for the abuse and keep the abuse a secret. Rural victims need services which help them break the cycle of domestic violence, provide support when they ask for help, crisis shelter while they establish short and long term goals, information about their rights, assistance with understanding the civil and criminal court processes, and help with finding employment or job training. Victims need services which help them establish their independence and programs and opportunities to earn a living so they can support themselves and their families. Immigrant victims who have no formal education and know little if an English have additional challenges such as fear of deportation, inability to find jobs or obtain a work permit and ineligibility for public assistance and health care.
Domestic violence survivors face many challenges when it comes to living a life free from violence. One of the most daunting and overwhelming is locating and securing safe and affordable housing. A variety of studies document that intimate partner violence is frequently associated with poverty, unemployment, housing instability, and homelessness. (Pavao, Alvarex, Baumrind, Induni, & Kimerling, 2007). For example, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty cited that violence against women is a leading cause of women’s homelessness. Between 22% and 57% of homeless women report that domestic violence or sexual violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness, depending on the region and type of study.
The threat of homelessness can keep victims in abusive relationships. In a series of state studies, 44% to 46% of homeless women said that they had stayed in an abusive relationship because they weren’t sure where they could go (American Civil Liberties Union, 2004). Among MSCFV clients, about 5% specifically say they returned to their abuser partner in the past because they had no place to go. One out of four victims exiting MSCFV’s emergency shelter are going to stay with family or friends, living situations that are often unstable. A review of MSCFV non-shelter intakes suggests that affordable, stable housing is a need for a significant number of clients. Half have no income of their own or make less than $1,000 per month. 46 percent list housing as a barrier for them.
The challenge of securing safe and affordable housing is even greater in rural areas. For instance, in the rural counties served by MSCFV, private market housing costs have continued to remain high and low income or income based housing have waiting lists up to years long.
In 2005, MSCFV began its Transitional Project specifically designed to address the
unique needs of rural domestic violence survivors, including English-speaking, Spanish- speaking and immigrants. Since that time, 102 family violence victims entered the Transitional Program. During the same period, more than 2,700 victims received services from MSCFV. Transitional clients receive financial assistance with securing housing and financial assistance for other transitional related costs through a grant from Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women. Coordination of the project is achieved through a Transitional Coordinator.
Transitional clients make up about 3.7% of total clients served. The demographic characteristics of clients are 62% are white, one-fifth are Hispanic and 14.3% are African-American. Twice as many Hispanic victims participate in the Transitional program as there are in the general MSCFV client population. Transitional clients range in age from 20 to 71 with an average of 36 years. Most clients have children. In fact, the 102 clients served have a total of 166 children who also received services either directly or indirectly.
Consistent with the longer term nature of the Transitional Program, Clients in the program received more months of MSCFV services than their counterparts. The average victim receiving services from MSCFV does so for 2 months. In contrast, transitional clients have an average of 11.5 months of service receipt.
Victims enter services with MSCFV after experience emotional and physical abuse with emotional abuse nearly universal. Half of the Transitional Program clients experienced the most severe forms of emotional abuse, resulting in them feeling “filled with fear and dread”. One-fourth had lasting pain or serious injuries at the hands of their abusive partners. A significant minority of victims (38%) had left their abuser at least once before.
Safe, affordable housing presents a major need for many Transitional clients when they enter the program. Three out of ten clients stayed in MSCFV’s emergency shelter. Eighty percent of victims need and desire changes in their housing situations at program entry. Housing needs include moving out of temporary housing (16%), obtaining Section 8 housing (25%), no longer sharing housing (14%) and obtaining her own housing (60%).
The majority (84%) of Transitional clients enter the program with legal needs. Common legal needs include obtaining a divorce (37%), making custody or visitation changes (21%), and obtaining permanent residence (26%). Employment and financial needs are also common among Transitional clients. Although two out of three victims have employment at program entry, 23% are looking for work.
As of October 2013, thirty-five women had graduated from the Transitional Program and 12 were still active. Ninety one percent of clients who graduate reside in their own permanent housing when they leave the Transitional Program.