STTARS Invited to Gates Foundation for DV Housing First Symposium

By Caroline LaPorte, Immediate Descendant of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Director of STTARS Indigenous Safe Housing Center

Learn More About the DV Housing First Model and Study

Aerial view of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation building in Seattle, WA. Photo taken in 2018. / Photo usage donated by Kelsey Foote.

On March 23, 2023, the STTARS Indigenous Safe Housing Center traveled to the Gates Foundation in Seattle, WA to participate in the DV Housing First Symposium hosted by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV). Director Caroline LaPorte sat on a panel, moderated by Nan Stoops with Grace Huang, Heidi Notario, Ruby White Starr, and Ruth Glen.

This convening was vital because it dissected a new model for addressing housing insecurity and homelessness for survivors of gender-based violence. The DV Housing First Model comprises three main components: Mobile advocacy, Flexible financial assistance, and Community engagement. The approach focuses first on getting survivors of domestic violence into stable housing as quickly as possible and then providing the necessary support needed to rebuild their lives.1 This model asks survivors what their needs are and seeks to meet them, rather than placing an emphasis on what services an advocacy program can offer.2 The idea that survivors could have unrestricted funds to support any of their needs, which might impact their housing stability, is one of the main policy reforms that STTARS supports. Often survivors simply need help with car payments to ensure they have reliable transportation to and from work or school, they need help affording childcare, they need help with a medical or legal bill, or just a few payments to their landlords. Flexible funding options reinforce a core belief of STTARS: Survivors know best what they need and unconditionally deserve our trust.

Finally, with this model, community engagement is met via advocates building lasting connections with community members to better support survivors’ safety and housing stability.3

During the symposium, Dr. Cris Sullivan (Michigan State University), a beloved ally of ours for many years, reviewed the findings of the evaluation project. These findings indicated that the DV Housing First Model is more effective than services as usual in helping survivors achieve housing stability, safety, and improved mental health over two years.4 The study followed 406 unstably-housed domestic violence survivors who had recently sought services from one of five domestic violence agencies in the Pacific Northwest.5 Of the participants, 12% identified as “Indigenous.”6

During the panel conversation, Caroline LaPorte stated that when talking about unhoused relatives from Indian Country and in off-reservation communities, it is imperative to center historical and ongoing land dispossession and other historical policies that have impacted American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) survivors’ access to safe shelter and housing. Further, while the model represents a new option for survivors, it remains unclear what the impact on Tribal communities and AI/AN survivors will or could be (especially given several serious limitations around funding for housing in Tribal communities, the lack of housing inventory and shelter, and the historical context and root causes for homelessness and housing insecurity in our communities). Survivors in our communities state that there is a persistent and overwhelming need for Tribal domestic violence shelters and that the overall lack of housing inventory inevitably affects models’ ability to be accessible to AI/AN survivors.

The symposium concluded with Dr. Funmi Ayeni (National Resource Center on Domestic Violence) and Dr. Gabriela Lopez-Zeron (Research Consortium on Gender-based Violence Michigan State University) helping us think about moving forward in our shared work addressing homelessness and housing insecurity in partnership with domestic violence survivors. Stating that “communities know what is true and communities hold their knowledge” and that community needs are clear, unwavering, and unchanging, Dr. Ayeni closed us out by having us think about what we do with the stories people share with us. She asked us to hold ourselves accountable and firmly stated, “I hope that, especially for federal partners and philanthropists in the room, that you leave asking communities what questions they want answered, rather than the questions you want answered.”

STTARS wishes Linda Olsen from WSCADV a happy and much-deserved retirement. Linda was one of our first key informant interviews as a new resource center, and we have been honored to know her and share this space with her.

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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.