Housing as a Mitigating Factor for MMIWG
STTARS MMIWG Practical Responses for Housing Authorities, Property Managers, Residents, Tribal Council/Leadership, and Community
The STTARS Indigenous Safe Housing Center (STTARS) thanks the National Workgroup on Safe Housing for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Survivors of Gender-Based Violence for their input on this document. STTARS prioritizes our Workgroup in an advisory capacity because it centers lived experience and brings together advocates and survivors at different points on the intersection of gender-based violence and housing insecurity. Requests for training and technical assistance that STTARS has responded to over the past year and a half have centered on the practical approaches that housing entities, Tribal leadership, residents, property managers, advocates, and communities can do to prevent gender-based violence—particularly missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). This article is based on past training and our Practical Responses Brief (see bit.ly/42KORr7).
STTARS prioritizes safe housing and shelter for Indigenous survivors of gender-based violence. Safe housing and shelter access are key to preventing MMIWG. This is a serious and pervasive issue that impacts Indigenous peoples in both on and off-reservation communities. The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) and countless other families, advocates, organizations, and researchers address MMIWG from a framework that considers prevention, intervention, and postvention. At times, the law enforcement response and the collection of data have been prioritized to address MMIWG. These responses are critical to analyze and implement. However, the prevention framework must be urgently prioritized.
STTARS holds that housing is a critical preventative response to MMIWG. Being an unsheltered relative represents an incredible risk for victimization, and there is a strong correlation between domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, and MMIWG. Survivors of domestic violence rely on safe housing and shelter access when experiencing abuse. In fact, 63% of all homeless women are survivors of domestic violence. It means that most individuals who utilize public housing, Tribal housing, and emergency shelter services have unique needs related to their experiences of violence. It also means that Tribal Housing Authorities, Tribal Designated Housing Entities, property management companies, and other employees must be aware of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual assault, violations of protection orders, and human trafficking.
It is also necessary to view the safe housing and shelter crisis on and off-reservation within its historical context. Colonization introduced the violent thought that land and bodies could be owned. All of this is rooted in white supremacy. The same mindset that says black and brown bodies are inferior and should be owned or assimilated is the same mindset that says land should be put to its best use to serve imperial or commercial purposes. This same mindset upholds extraction with no regard for the next generations, our drinking water, our airways, or how Indigenous peoples in the U.S. can continue to practice culture and tradition on our lands. It is the same mindset in which imperialist governments enter and break treaties. It is a mindset that fully ignores consent, autonomy, and sovereignty on the part of Tribal Nations and Native women’s bodies. Acts of violence against Native women and violence against the Land cannot be viewed as randomized or even consequential occurrences but as manifestations of a larger goal: Eradicating Indigenous people from their lands.
This mindset is best seen perhaps in the MMIWG space, where the violence has culminated in death. MMIWG is about more than the law enforcement response or lack of response to violence in Indian country though those pieces are certainly detrimental and a critical component of both intervention and response to violence. The crux of MMIWG is the length of time in which AI/AN people have been continuously devalued, fetishized, dehumanized, and discarded and how genocide and colonization have informed and served as underpinnings in federal policy. MMIWG is also a symptom of the culmination of the federal government’s failure to fulfill its trust responsibilities, including the obligation to assist Indian Tribes in safeguarding the lives of Indian women and its role in historically degrading Tribal sovereignty.
Violence against the land, the treatment of land as a commodity, the dispossession and expropriation of land, and violence against Native women are tethered. Framing this as state violence is fair. If we consider the arch of the United States’ history in regard to safe housing and shelter for Native people, we see massive land theft from the Indigenous populations that existed here long before 1776, forced removal of Indigenous people from their homelands, Supreme Court opinions that memorialize and create precedent out of the now denounced Doctrine of Discovery and manifest destiny, the Indian Civilization Act (1819), the Homestead Act (1862), the Dawes Act (1887), the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (1920), the Indian Relocation Act (1956), failed consultation, unpermitted pipelines, failed responses to natural disasters, failure to appropriate congressional dollars to Native American Housing Assistance and Self Determination Act (1996), failure to allocate Victims of Crime Act dollars to Tribal governments until 2018, the federal relocation of Tribes and villages due to the climate crisis and so on. These laws and policies are an abject failure of the United States to meet its obligation to Indian people, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiians.
This article provides best practices and outdated code provisions.
- Hire Native property managers.
- Employ flexibility in requiring application fees/credit checks.
- Remove barriers for survivors who have past convictions.
- Prioritize gender-based violence survivors on housing waitlists (identify and implement a process for identifying survivors that keeps their information confidential as federal law requires).
- Have a language access plan.
- Create policies that support survivor safety and confidentiality.
- Receive training from Native domestic violence and sexual assault organizations.
- Be community aware.
- Implement practices and policies that create safety and security.
- Avoid making survivors feel surveilled, which can harm their sense of security.
- Employ flexibility in resident requirements and compliance with rules (i.e., enforcement of fines).
- Advocate for a change or clarification if an agency standard impacts survivors of gender-based violence in a disparate way.
- Require and provide all employees with ongoing training on culturally appropriate assistance/services and why they are ESSENTIAL for responding to intersectional issues in both on and off-reservation communities.
- Do not conflate Diversity/Equity and Inclusion with direct action in response to Anti-Indigeneity/Oppression.
- Understand intersectional issues (like child welfare impacts, legal issues encompassing criminal and civil frameworks, PPO access, substance misuse, mental health issues, etc.) and strive to make policies and practices reflect this understanding.
- Accountability is both a practice and a response.
- Be a good relative.
- Know the law around filing a missing person’s report. Be aware of the implications of filing a report for special populations (i.e., juveniles with prior foster care involvement).
- Language barriers create serious safety impacts and make spaces inaccessible, so have a language access plan.
- Trust survivors.
- Collaborate with Tribal domestic violence and sexual assault advocates, programs, and shelters.
- Bring in non-domestic violence and sexual assault-related organizations that address interrelated/intersectional issues as needed.
- Utilize policies that screen in rather than screen out.
- Locate or develop culturally appropriate screening tools that are local-specific.
- Ensure that leadership and staff are engaged in intentional internal work around bias/prejudice.
- Create safe and secure spaces for documents (IDs, social security cards, Tribal IDs/enrollment documentation, medical records, court records) and make sure that temporary residents have meaningful access.
- Diversify staff so they represent the community they serve.
- Stop evicting/fining for infractions such as noise complaints/residents being behind in utilities/having other individuals in the unit.
- Make sure staff receive cultural safety training.
- Know the resources in your community in particular, culturally rooted resources that address gender-based violence.
- Craft policies that create a strong sense of community and prioritize safety.
- Seek out and receive ongoing training from Native domestic violence and sexual violence organizations.
- Post hotline information and have support readily available.
- Know the requirements in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) around confidentiality and ensure that you comply if required.
- Practical considerations such as good lighting in common spaces, ring doorbells (or alternatives), key fobs, community safety supports, and creating common time together (meals, ceremony, etc.).
- Receive ongoing training on harm reduction/trauma-informed care.
- Hiring practices should emphasize lived experience.
- Ask yourself these questions: If you are culturally appropriate, what do you do? What does it look like in daily practice?
- Be a good relative.
- Be aware of surroundings and routines.
- Observe and report but do not surveil fellow residents.
- Lead awareness activities.
- Document barriers.
- When possible, provide mutual aid and support.
- Advocate for necessary changes.
- Claim the power of your voice in the community and public spaces on legislative and policy issues.
- Be a good relative.
- Fund housing projects.
- Start a domestic violence shelter or other emergency safe place.
- Apply for Rapid Rehousing and Transitional Housing Funds.
- Fund domestic violence and sexual assault programming and services.
- Support the needs of families when someone goes missing, such as creating space to work, making copies, giving access to a communications/media specialist if you have one, and bringing in coordinators and therapeutic services.
- Pass laws that promote prevention ensuring access to safe housing/VAWA compliance/domestic violence leave policies.
- Avoid political interference in Court processes/law enforcement/community or family services.
- Be aware of the vulnerabilities experienced by some families, even if it is not the experience of most of your community members.
- Enhance and expand Tribal member service programs and victim/survivor services that include legal services.
- Seek out and receive ongoing training from Native domestic violence or sexual assault organizations.
- Commit to hiring practices to sufficiently vet individuals with access to vulnerable community members.
- Advocate for increased housing options and lower barriers access to housing/shelter.
- Locate pro bono lawyers in your community.
- Create a “Know your rights” campaign.
- Be community aware.
- Educate others on the intersection of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, dating violence, and homelessness/housing insecurity.
- Address trauma.
- Care for your community/your people (mutual aid where available).
- Ensure that you are familiar and up to date with local resources.
- Claim the power of your collective voice in the community and public spaces on legislative and policy issues.
- Build relationships with Tribal, local, state, and federal policymakers (Tribal council, city commissioners, city council, local agency leads, and Congress members).
Additionally, through our review of some Tribal housing codes, STTARS has compiled some provisions (illustrative) that are outdated and impact survivors’ experiences. STTARS operates from a sovereignty framework, and just as we hold true that safe housing is not a negotiable need of survivors, we also maintain that Tribes are in the best possible position to care for and govern their people. We encourage Tribes to locate their housing and related codes and to review them for any of the following:
- Nuisance Ordinances.
- One-Strike Laws.
- Expedited Eviction Codes (usually related to substance misuse).
- Requirement of certain disclosures (prior convictions/other application disclosures regarding systems interactions).
- Financial barriers to accessing housing (application fees, prior evictions, lack of employment).
- Access to information can be limited or restricted by internet access/sometimes not publicly available;
- Rigid rules around care/maintenance of housing units.
- Rigid rules regarding pets (prohibition).
- Limitations regarding who can reside in a unit.
- Citations/fines for garbage/maintenance/upkeep.
- Lack of ADA compliance or similar regulations/ordinances.
- Substance abuse/misuse policies (clean urine analysis).
The major issue with many of these provisions is that emphasis is placed on the protection of an asset rather than on the survivor. This lens has a detrimental impact on survivors living within these units. Additional barriers include decentralization of codes/ordinances and regulations, rules relating to children (curfews), non-Native Organizations serving as Tribally Designated Housing Entities, and views of survivors generally.
This resource is made possible by grant #90EV0537, from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.