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County deals with lack of housing for domestic violence victims

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Published on: Thursday, April 11, 2013

By Tazeen Ahmad

ROCKVILLE = Many women fleeing an abusive relationship scared for their lives and the safety of their young children who approach county agencies for help can sometimes find themselves alone in a motel room because the county has nowhere else to place them.

“This is a real issue for us in Montgomery County,” Nadja Cabello, director of Victim Assistance and Sexual Assault Program (VSAP), said.  “We have high risk victims that have taken an extremely difficult step and we want to be there for them at that critical time but our shelter is backed up, there are no open rooms so we have no choice but to put them into a motel.”

Cabello says that the problem lies in the lack of permanent and transitional housing for domestic violence victims - a problem that local politicians recognize but also for which they admit they don’t yet have a solution.

“I think this is something that is going to continue to be a challenge moving forward,” said Nancy Navarro, Montgomery County council president.  “We are trying to figure out what are the different types of approaches and incentives we can put in place.”  

Currently Betty Ann Krahnke Shelter, Montgomery County’s only domestic violence shelter, has 54-beds and provides a safe haven for abused women and their children, including support with trauma recovery and empowerment to increase their personal safety.

Ideally, according to social workers, residents should stay in the shelter for 2-3 months, where they have a safe environment and services including case management, supportive group counseling, child focused therapy, and help to reintegrate into the community, and then move on to permanent and transitional housing.  

Cabello said because of a severe lack of transitional housing shelter residents often end up at the shelter for about 5 – 6 months and at times even as long as a year. “We cannot move them out because there is no housing for them,” Cabello said. She said at times lack of housing also results in the victim returning to the abuser, often putting themselves at greater risk.

“We want to put victims coming into the system into the shelter with all the support services and protection it offers not into the community in a motel by themselves,” Cabello said.  

“There is no way to provide protection for them or give them the emotional support they desperately need at that critical time and it is expensive for the county; it is a no win situation.  We need to find a better solution”

Not having transitional housing for those leaving the shelter also creates problems according to Vivian Levi, clinical director at the Betty Ann Krahnke Shelter.

“It is a population with a lot of trauma, mental health and substance abuse problems….When people are forced to leave too early they come back with worse problems, sometimes in higher risk relationships with less resources,” Levi said.

 Levi would like to see the county council pay more attention to the issue.  “There needs to be recognition that this population needs to be treated differently and that this is not simply a homeless population,” Levi said.

She would like to see some funding made available to the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a transitional home for those no longer needing the urgent services they require when they come into the shelter but continue to need services and support.

“Clearly there is still work to do,” said council member Phil Andrews.  “The shortage of transitional housing, affordable housing in general, is one of the biggest problems the county faces,” Andrews said.

 “There is not an easy answer to it but it is a problem I think we recognize has to be met in some efficient and effective way,” Andrews said.

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