We believe that everyone in our community deserves a home that is safe and free from violence. Sadly, far too many individuals, families, and children in Clark County live in fear of the violent and controlling behavior of a loved one or family member. As these victims of abuse struggle, Congress is considering a federal budget that could make it even harder for them to find safety.
In Washington state, the bulk of funding for domestic and sexual violence victim services comes from the federal government through the Violence Against Women Act and other grant programs administered by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.
These services include shelter, housing and other forms of advocacy instrumental to helping survivors achieve safety and independence from abuse. Affordable housing, homeless services, and legal assistance are all vital to community safety and are largely funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Legal Services Corporation. Federal funds also support collaboration between organizations and government institutions like YWCA Clark County, law enforcement, and prosecution.
Clark County’s Domestic Violence Prosecution Center is a stellar example. This collaboration helps to ensure that victims and survivors receive advocacy services while navigating the criminal justice system and allows for a coordinated response to domestic violence and sexual assault in our community.
In Clark County, as in most communities across the state, we collectively struggle within existing budgets to meet the needs for support, housing, and other services. Many survivors of abuse are unable to get the help that is so vital. On a single day last year, local domestic violence programs like YWCA Clark County served more than 2,300 survivors statewide, but were unable to fulfill another 732 requests for services due to lack of capacity and resources, 87 percent of which were for housing.
Domestic violence is a leading cause of family homelessness. Because the abuse often occurs within the home, the availability of accessible housing can be one of the most important factors contributing to the safety and self-determination of survivors. No one should be forced to choose between staying with an abusive partner or becoming homeless. Affordable housing options for survivors are a key to both reducing violence and addressing the broader homelessness crisis.
Touches us all
Newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that 4 in 10 Washingtonians report being physically abused, experiencing sexual violence, and/or being stalked by an intimate partner over the course of their lifetime. These numbers confirm what we see in our work every day: Domestic violence touches us all, either directly or indirectly, and we all have a responsibility as a community to support survivors of violence and speak up when critical services are at risk of being eliminated.
This summer, Congress will determine the fate of federal funding for shelter, housing, and advocacy that are essential to the safety of victims/survivors. These decisions will either allow communities such as ours to continue the progress toward ending domestic and sexual violence while supporting families, or move Clark County backwards by endangering survivors and cutting services and support. As dire as the situation sounds, the good news is that we can do something about domestic and sexual violence in our communities.
We call on Congress to act by passing a federal budget that supports our community by preserving funding for VAWA and other victim services, and rejecting harmful cuts to HUD or Legal Services Corporation. We encourage you to join our call. When violence occurs and our neighbors need help to find safety, we all must stand up and stand together.
Caroline Bartlett is director of SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program through YWCA Clark County.