PROVIDENCE — In a single day last fall, approximately 61 victims of domestic violence requested supportive services in Rhode Island, from housing to transportation, that assistance programs could not provide because of a lack of resources. But 93 percent of these unmet services were for housing and emergency shelter in particular. This is compared to a single day in 2020, where 58 percent of those unmet needs among victims were for housing or emergency shelter.
On Wednesday, the National Network to End Domestic Violence released their annual “Domestic Violence Counts” report, which had a separate report for Rhode Island. Their count took place on a single day — Sept. 9, 2021 — where 80 percent of identified domestic violence programs in Rhode Island participated in the national count.
Of those that participated, 88 percent of the provided services, which victims were able to access, were for transitional or other housing programs run by a domestic violence program and 63 percent were for emergency shelter. Another 63 percent of programs that provided were for advocacy services related to “housing and landlords.”
“The housing crisis is really impacting domestic violence victims. There’s just less affordable housing, so victims are staying in shelter much longer than they ever had to,” said Lucy Rios, the interim executive director Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in a phone interview with the Globe.
Rios, who has worked for the coalition for the since 2003 but just started leading the organization in January, said victims who could not access emergency shelter or housing likely stayed with their abuser or slept in their cars.
“It’s something we’re seeing a lot lately” in Rhode Island, said Rios. “Or they are accessing other types of shelters. But they aren’t getting the support they need simply because of capacity.”
More than 307 people were unsheltered and slept in their cars or outside in February alone, according to the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness. This figure could include domestic violence victims.
In Rhode Island during the pandemic, shelters had to cut their capacity by 50 percent for public health purposes.
This year’s report also showed that 493 victims were served in a single day in Rhode Island.
About 185 adult and child victims of domestic violence found refuge in emergency shelters, transitional housing, hotels, motels, and other housing provided by local domestic violence programs. Approximately 308 non-residential adult and child victims received supportive services, including counseling, legal advocacy, and support groups.
Domestic hotline staff received 154 calls that day, which averages to about six calls into the hotline per hour from Rhode Island alone. The hotlines are used as lifelines for victims in danger, to provide support and information, safety planning, and for resources that can be provided over the phone, chat, text, and email.
The national and local report does not provide data by city or county for confidential and safety reasons.
Rios said they have been focusing heavily on prevention work to end domestic violence.
“We’ve been asking ourselves, what else can be done to prevent domestic violence? We need to change the culture, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that allow domestic violence to exist,” said Rios. “But culture work takes time. It takes policy changes, and reexamining other conditions in our community.
Rios explained that the coalition has advocated the state to dedicate more of its $1.13 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds toward housing and shelter space.
“But those are one-time payments,” she said. In Rhode Island, “We need state-level [investments] in affordable housing, especially for victims of domestic violence.”
She said there are dedicated funds in the state budget for survivor programs, particularly around prevention, child witnesses, and court advocacy. But none, she said, are geared toward housing. The coalition is asking for a dedicated, annual funding stream from the state to be spent on transitional housing, which will provide a family with stable housing for up to 24 months, which Rios said should be enough time for victims to get support, counseling, get a stable job (if they don’t already have one), continue their education, and “simply get back on their feet.”
“We need resources to do the work,” said Rios. “Because the investments we make now will start to pay off in future generations.”
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.