Safe housing

Report from the National Workgroup on Safe Housing for American Indian and Alaska Native Survivors of Gender-Based Violence

The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence convened a meeting in Phoenix, Arizona June 4-5, 2019 to establish a National Workgroup on Safe Housing for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Survivors of Gender-Based Violence. The goal of this workgroup was to bring together experts from Indian Country who work in the fields of gender-based violence and housing to develop policy and create concrete recommendations for technical assistance, resources and other supports for the sole purpose of increasing the availability of safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable housing for AI/AN survivors of gender-based violence.

At the core of this convening were essential questions about how we can be good relatives to one another, to our nonhuman kinship and to the Land. Because if housing stability is going to be fully realized, we have to ask and answer important questions about what it means to have a duty to one another, about what it means to do good work and to be good people. If we start from the framework that we all deserve safety, that we all deserve a place to belong, that we all deserve community, we can start to move forward. If we can believe that housing and shelter are basic human rights, just as they are basic human needs, we can start to see the outlines of what it is that we have to change about our existing framework and about how we have set about doing this work in the past. What the convening showed us, if anything, is that we truly need time to get our arms around these issues, because the actualization of housing stability will require a major shift in how we have approached this issue historically.

The following individuals were active participants in our workgroup convening on June 4-5, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona:
Kris Billhardt (National Alliance for Safe Housing); Donna Fairbanks (National Native Housing Training Consultant); Brenda Hill and Gwen Packard (National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center); Eileen Hudon (Independent Consultant); Tami Jerue (Anvik Tribal Council, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center); Sheila Lamb (Life House); Caroline LaPorte (Independent Consultant); Tatewin Means (Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation); Anne Menard and Heidi Notario (National Resource Center on Domestic Violence); Linda Retka (National American Indian Housing Council); Liana Sanchez (Avanyu, LLC); Christine Stark (Independent Consultant); and Diana Yazzie Devine (Native American Connections).

Historical Relevance

The need for safe, affordable and sustainable housing is a grave concern for AI/AN gender-based violence survivors, the advocates and services who seek to help them, and for their communities who value them. This is especially true considering that domestic violence and sexual assault are the leading causes of homelessness in most communities within the United States.1 The shelter and housing “crisis” in Indian Country and for AI/AN people is nothing new. Housing issues have been present ever since the moment that Indigenous ways of life and tribal communities were destroyed by colonization. A quick study on the eras of federal Indian law and policy make it clear that inhumane practices towards AI/AN peoples and Indian Tribes have historically been the norm and housing is not an exception.

The basic lack of housing for AI/AN peoples is factually the result of massive land theft, systemic removal and other intentional acts across the timeline of the United States’ history.  The treatment of AI/AN people, of Indian Tribes with regards to land became statutorily enshrined around 1830, when Congress passed the Indian Removal Act under the tutelage of one Andrew Jackson. Between 1832 and 1843, most Eastern tribes were removed to the West or were forced to live on smaller reservations East.2

Between 1887 and 1934, the federal policy towards Indian people was shaped by two efforts: 1) take Indian Lands for settlement by whites and 2) take Indians, specifically children, and assimilate to them into white society.3 As a result, the General Allotment Act (commonly referred to as the Dawes Act) was passed. The overall goal of the Dawes Act was “to extinguish tribal sovereignty, erase reservation boundaries, and force the assimilation of Indians into society at large.”4 In accordance with the Act the President was authorized to divide “communally held tribal lands into separate parcels (‘allotments’).”5 Tribal members were assigned an allotment and a trust was supposed to ensue after a set period of time. The remaining tribal land was sold to non-Indian farmers. The idea was to satisfy the goals of non-Indian settlers while making Indians white (and thereby eliminating Indian poverty), simply by having them live in close proximity to one another.6 The act was successful at taking tribal communal land and transferring it to white colonizers for individual consumption, but it was not at all successful in eliminating Indian poverty, which occurred as a direct result of the policy and treatment of AI/AN people since the first contact between Indians and non-Indians occurred.7 First, the Indians had no desire to become white because they were already Indians. Second, the allotments they received, upon which they were to farm and ranch, were not suitable for agriculture. Due to their poverty, many Indians were forced to sell their allotments to white colonizers or they lost the land to foreclosures. Of the nearly 150 million acres of land that tribes owned in 1887, by the time the Dawes Act was repealed in 1934, less than 50 million acres remained.8 My own ancestors lost an 80-acre allotment of land in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the East side of Monocle Lake. It is now part of the Hiawatha National Forest.

Thus, the housing crisis in Indian Country has to be viewed first as a historical injustice, one that has been utilized as a tool in the ongoing genocide of indigenous populations. The same is true for the high incidence of gender-based violence in AI/AN populations. The housing crisis and the high rates of violence, lack of adequate resources and criminal justice response to that violence in Indian Country and in communities where AI/AN people reside outside of Indian Country, cannot be viewed as randomized or even consequential occurrences, but rather as manifestations of a larger goal: the eradication of Indigenous people from their lands.

Intersection of Housing and Gender-Based Violence for American Indian and Alaska Native Survivors

The need for safe, affordable, accessible and stable housing is one of the most pressing concerns for American Indian and Alaska Native survivors of gender-based violence. Domestic and sexual violence are leading causes of homelessness for women and children generally.9 Housing is a basic human right, yet AI/AN survivors of gender-based violence frequently report access, habitability or sustainability issues, leading to layers of vulnerability and increased risk of new or continued victimization. These issues are felt almost universally by the AI/AN population across the housing spectrum. Just as there are urgent issues for AI/AN survivors of gender-based violence who attempt to access shelters or emergency and transitional housing, the same issues are present with regards to the availability of housing assistance and affordable, habitable, sustainable and stable housing.

Please note that for the purposes of this report, the term AI/AN people includes AI/AN people in Indian Country and off reservation. AI/AN people reside in all communities, tribal or non-Tribal, urban or rural, and the policy recommendations included at the end of this report would need to be differentiated based on the needs of AI/AN peoples and based on the resources that can be found within our communities. Consultation would also be needed in order to vet these recommendations through Tribal leadership, who are in the best possible position to know and elevate the needs of their Nations.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) through the USDOJ released a study in May, 2016, which found that American Indian and Alaska Native women experience severe rates of violence in their lifetimes, including:

  • 56.1% have experienced sexual violence;
  • 55.5% have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner;
  • 48.4% have experienced stalking; and
  • 66.4% have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner.10

Of the women who experienced sexual violence, 96% of them were victimized by at least one non-Indian perpetrator. This cannot be ignored, though it is certainly true that intraracial violence occurs in tribal communities as well. A Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report issued in 2017 found that Non-Hispanic black and American Indian and Alaska Native women experienced the highest rates of homicide (4.4 and 4.3 per 100,000 population, respectively).11 The CDC report further concluded that there was a strong link between homicide and intimate partner violence, finding that 55.4% of the cases involving American Indians and Alaska Natives were at the hands of an intimate partner.12 38% of these women were killed with a firearm.13

The link between homelessness and sex trafficking victimization is equally strong and was discussed at the convening extensively. The report “Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women,” found that of the 105 women who were prostituted and sex trafficked, 98% of them were either currently experiencing or had experienced homelessness.14

These numbers represent the lived experiences of AI/AN women. They are not simply statistics or talking points. They are real individuals, with real experiences of violence in their lives. It is essential to center their stories, which are lacking in this report. It is going to be imperative moving forward to include survivors’ voices into reports such as this one. While working group participants brought their many experiences to the table during the convening, hearing valuable anecdotal information from survivors was not the focus of the convening itself. The focus of the convening was to look at systemic issues from a practice and policy lens.

The Convening

The intention of this convening was to bring together advocates from diverse fields, backgrounds, regions, and experiences in order to begin thinking about what
During the convening, the following became clear:

  • Domestic violence/sexual assault/stalking/sex trafficking advocates could make exceptional gains in their advocacy efforts with increased interaction and collaboration with public housing advocates/advocates who address housing instability and homelessness;
  • It is essential that public housing authorities/advocates who address homelessness receive training on serving their clients who are experiencing gender-based violence;
  • Tribal governments need adequate training on gender-based violence and on the barriers that survivors in their communities face. They need a foundational understanding of how housing intersects with the experience of violence in their communities;
  • The gender-based violence field needs education on the development of community projects/housing projects and on how to access and utilize different funding sources, housing projects and models;
  • There are a variety of successful housing models that could be utilized to meet survivor needs like permanent supportive housing;
  • Stakeholder participants were in agreement that the multiple silos are in place across their respective fields creating a barrier to effective services;
  • Youth led movements are inherently valuable and create overwhelmingly positive outcomes in their communities;
  • There are certain quick policy fixes, which might improve housing options in the immediate future (for example, allocating Domestic Violence Bonus Funds to supplement Indian Block Grants), but which might not address overall policy goals for the gender-based violence field in Indian Country (like the full realization of inherent tribal authority over tribal lands);
  • There are longer term policy goals, which might improve housing options in a sustainable way, and which also might be a disruption to colonial constructs around housing, such as ownership of land (for example, full recognition of treaty rights or return of land to Indigenous populations)15;
  • Any solutions must address the whole of the individual survivor, as well as the needs of the community; and
  • Traditional ways of living are paramount to actual safety and prevention work.

Ongoing Questions of the Workgroup

Because the working group was able to begin delving into the many layered issues of housing access, instability and inequality for survivors in AI/AN communities, the convening produced additional questions that need to be explored further. These questions were not resolved by the working group because they are inherently difficult to answer and are existential in nature. They also ask us to examine our underlying premises for the ways in which we have traditionally approached this work with our funders. We have to accept that these are the issues that are at hand for all of us, not just for AI/AN advocates and survivors. An illustrative, not exhaustive, list of these questions is provided below:

  1. How do you address the tension between western concept of homeownership and economic stability and the Indigenous understanding and teachings around land, Earth, and our responsibility to her?  
  2. Why do we displace survivors from their homes and their communities? Why do we displace their sense of belonging and deprioritize their normalcy and stability?
  3. How can one instill commitment to safety and security for survivors across the various public housing options found in Indian Country/off reservation settings where AI/AN peoples live?
  4. How can we incorporate restorative justice concepts into housing for survivors and still maintain safety and confidentiality?
  5. How do we create healthy and safe communities that thrive?
  6. When addressing offenders, who are often victims themselves, how do we maintain that every individual has value and create access to healing while still maintaining offender accountability?

  Other questions arose that can be answered with additional time and funding allocated to continue the work of the group:

  1. How does permanent supportive housing become a safe and available option for survivors of gender-based violence?
  2. How do we help advocates have a better understanding of housing as a highly regulated industry?
  3. How can we support housing advocates who can navigate the systems in place?

Core Conversations and Themes that Emerged from the Workgroup

The workgroup’s core conversations centered on the following: the housing spectrum, survivors needs, the Trust Responsibility of the Federal Government, Historical Trauma, The Violence Against Women Act, Tribal Housing Codes, The Picture of Poverty and Homelessness In AI/AN
communities, The Need for Culturally Created Resources, The Role of  Tribal Government, Alaska Specific Needs, and Creative Ways to Leverage Funding.

Policy Recommendations Highlights

The following are policy recommendations that emerged from the working group as well as from the listening session and the critical conversation which were both held at the FVPSA Tribal grantee meeting. These recommendations were the culmination of the conversations that have occurred over the past year, but they are not meant to be exhaustive. Additional conversations have to happen to ensure that this list is representative of all AI/AN peoples in the United States. A report is forthcoming that details the policy recommendations, the themes that emerged during the convening, and the core conversations that were had. While it awaits approval, the following article is a summation of what was discussed. Again, this is not exhaustive (the actual report is around 60 pages):

  1. Create a Tribal Housing Consortium; a group for culturally relevant TA and technical assistance providers, similar to the DV Housing Consortium that already exists in the mainstream gender-based violence field in order to build Responsive TA in a comprehensive manner;
  2. Fund listening sessions with survivors, where survivors are compensated for their time, so that the working group can competently assist survivors in crafting policy that would ensure AI/AN peoples who are two-spirit, who have disabilities, who are non-English language speakers, and other additional marginalized identities can be represented more fully in working group reports; or alternatively or who are funded to develop the work themselves with support from a funded Tribal Housing Consortium;
  3. Fund a Youth Component to the Tribal Housing Consortium that is youth led and youth developed;
  4. Change the definition of chronic homelessness to make permanent supportive housing more available to survivors of gender-based violence;
  5. If necessary or beneficial, work with the National American Indian Housing Council to draft a resolution in support of advocating for changes to tribal housing codes where needed, which either more closely mirror the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, or that address the unique needs of survivors in their community;
  6. Support training and technical assistance for the gender-based violence field in AI/AN communities (including urban) to better understand how to leverage housing funds that are available and to better understand development of housing projects or other models, such as permanent supportive housing.
  7. Support and fund training and technical assistance efforts to educate service providers, tribal governments, tribal HUD authorities, and other stakeholders on domestic violence and other forms of gender based violence.
  8. Support the development of a toolkit that focuses solely on funding and how it can be layered to meet the needs for survivors;
  9. Support DV Bonus Funding for housing survivors in tribal communities, similar to the one here…;
  10. Support the development of a toolkit for Tribal Public Housing Agencies regarding the  operation and management of permanent supportive housing for tribes;
  11. Support the ongoing meetings of this working group, expanded to include others, so that the group can narrow in on one or more of these policy recommendations and develop the recommendation(s);
  12. Fully fund Indian Housing Block Grants at least to the levels recommended in ONAP’s 2017 report;
  13. Increase Tribal FVPSA and statutorily include funding for the AKNWRC, for the StrongHearts Native Helpline, and for tribal coalitions who provide lifesaving services to gender-based violence survivors in Tribal communities. These statutorily created organizations either do not have their own funding allocation or are completely shut NAHASDA out (in the instance of tribal coalitions) from accessing lifesaving FVPSA dollars;
  14. A permanent tribal set aside out of the CVF that is equal or greater to 5% of the cap established by Congress in each year;
  15. Advocate for full consultation with Indian Tribes on the allocation of VOCA dollars and on the application process and the oversight of those monies;
  16. Fund the working group to research the ways that states, and territories creatively use and layer VOCA funding to support housing stability for gender-based violence survivors;
  17. Fully staff a tribal VOCA office; and
  18. Get clarification regarding whether the restriction of Tribal VOCA dollars to disallow building new construction is one of agency discretion or if there is a statutory prohibition against new construction.


The working group is expected to reconvene (and grow) in order to more fully develop these recommendations. Again, the working group met over the course of a day and half. What the working group found to be essential was that space was created over that day and a half to convene individuals from different fields, rather than creating a silo-ed space with gender-based violence advocates only. It was incredibly beneficial to hear from the experts who work primarily in response to housing instability (who service GBV survivors, but who do not mainly focus on the GBV field), to hear what types of funds they access, how they layer that funding, and how they leverage their resources into sustainable services. It is critical going forward to continue engaging in these conversations.

1. Safe Housing Partnerships, The Intersection of Domestic Violence and Homelessness (July 21, 2019), available at…
2. Pevar.
3. Pevar.
4. County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes and Bands of Yakima Indian Nation, 502 U.S. 251, 254 (1992).
5. Pevar, S.L. (2012). The Rights of Indians and Tribes. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
6. Id.
7. Id.
8. Id.
9. Safe Housing Partnerships, The Intersection of Domestic Violence and Homelessness (July 21, 2019), available at…
10. Rosay, A.B. (2016). Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men. NIJ Journal  277:38-45.….
11. Petrosky E, Blair JM, Betz CJ, Fowler KA, Jack SP, Lyons BH. Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence — United States, 2003–2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:741–746. DOI:
12. Id.
13. Id.
14. Farley, M., et al. (2011). Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota.
15. Note: Not all Tribes are Treaty Tribes.