Sleepless in Seattle as a result of my cogs whirring!

16 October 2016

So with this blog it is hard to know where to start! I have been desperate to get to Seattle as they have one of the first Housing First programmes for women in the world and they have been evaluated! The Gates Foundation gave Seattle $2,000,000 for a pilot project of 5 years in January 2010 to 13 projects. 13 housing first advocates were employed and a financial assistance fund was put in place for every project (like the social resilience fund in Washington DC) Then more recently the Gates’ gave them another $2,500,000 to continue the work and also to complete a 5 year evaluation to look at the difference it makes and outcomes.

So my hosts in Seattle are the extraordinary Cris Sullivan and Linda Olsen. cris-linda-and-martinisCris is one of leading researchers in housing and domestic violence in the world and has so much knowledge she makes my head spin. She is carrying out the 5 year evaluation and I honestly want to fast forward 5 years….. talk about wishing your life away. Linda has pioneered the approach in Seattle and has dramatically changed the way they view housing programmes in Seattle with staggering outcomes.

On Thursday I met with the amazing advocates from Interim Housing who are a grass roots project. interim-housingThey are culturally specific and work predominantly with the Asian community. They have just 5 units and 2 scattered properties. When they have a space they have been between 10-20 referrals they have to choose from. They then had $200,000 for their Flexible Financial Assistance which is the same as the Social Resilience Fund (SRF) that DASH have in Washington DC and a rapid rehousing programme. Every single advocate I have spoken to has told me how much of a game changer the financial assistance fund has been for women and their work. The example of replacing tyres on a women’s car is just one. There are so many in which the advocates really feel they have been able to meet the needs of the women and it has been true self-determined advocacy. With this fund they were able to support 125 survivors in one year and proactively divert families from homelessness and keep them safe.

I then met with Dan Malone from Opening Doors to End Homelessness – DESC and we discussed their purely housing first model and its success. They moved to mobile advocacy and trauma informed advocacy which is exactly what is needed in our sector. My stand out thing at this meeting was a finding in the Supreme court of ‘Olmstead’ in which is was decreed that people have a right to live in the least restrictive places as possible. I know from my experience that many women I have worked with have said they found the refuge setting restrictive in that there are many rules around age of male children, drinking, drugs, curfews, no pets, no male visitors and often they are housed miles from where they live making them more isolated which I discussed in my other blog

So two great quotes from this meeting are:

‘What is the least disruptive option for women and children? Rather than what is restrictive?’ Cris Sullivan

‘We need a focus on harm reduction not harm elimination’ – Dan Malone

I have also heard a lot about what happened in Iowa as a model. The commissioning was changed so they went from 25 shelters which were under occupied to 9 shelters and instead implemented more mobile advocacy and went from 3 sexual assault services to 10. The result have been staggering as they are seeing 50% more sexual assault survivors, they are servicing more people, they are supporting more women of colour and are supporting more immigrants/ refuges and those with disabilities.

The next day we held a roundtable at Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) offices. seattle-roundtable There were representatives from Northwest Network of Bi-sexual, Trans, Lesbian and Gay survivors of Abuse, Lifewire, Interim and the Coalition Ending Gender-based Violence. The conversation was enthralling and the main points were as follows:

  1. Mobile advocacy and flexible funding assistance is a GAME CHANGER and led to a cultural shift in all agencies and options available to families
  2. Lifewire see themselves as a DV agency with numerous housing programmes and they love they have more than one option for families
  3. Self-determination is key in advocacy
  4. The debate between self-determination versus safety. One advocate explained that It is not feasible to promise safety in all cases as women will make their own choices and it is not up to us to judge
  5. Choice and agency is vital

Lifewire gave an example of a woman who had accessed their services 5 years before and then came back to say she wanted to leave her relationship with her 4 children. She was working and needed support with finding a new apartment, deposits and moving. Life wire were able to do this and supported her to find a three bedroom property within 2 weeks. This intervention cost $5,000 (not including staffing costs) and negated the need for a stay in a Refuge. On moving she then got ill and as a result could not work so again Lifewire were able to support this unforeseen circumstance as you are able to access this fund more than once and it has total flexibility. This flexible and progressive engagement also allowed them to help another woman to pay for 9 months’ rent while she finished her studies. She got a double major, won an award for her studies, got a good job and is totally self-sufficient and now desperate to give back to others.

In the UK it would be great if we could get funding to sponsor projects like the Financial Assistance Fund. What is essential is that it is an additive fund rather than taking away from existing services.

My last stop before Thai food was the Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County. They had the huge challenge of transforming a military fortress in to a sanctuary. It took them 8 years but now this centre has units but also a number of other housing programmes attached to its work including rapid rehousing, flexible funding assistance, transitional housing, permanent housing, a youth centre and  a prevention strand. I would love to see programmes in the UK that have this plethora of options.snohmish-county

Most of the Refuges I have visited in the US have scrapped the rules that had been in place for so long on age of male children, drinks and drugs and are moving to a harm reduction approach instead of harm elimination. Interestingly when Dan Malone did this at DSEC they put aside a pot of money for damage to property as this is what they predicted with the cohort of people they were aiming to target and they found this concern was never realised. I would love to see this kind of innovation in our sector and beyond.