What is flexible financial assistance?
Unrestricted funds given directly to survivors of abuse to help them with safety and stability as they rebuild their life after abuse. Flexible financial assistance can help with a wide variety of expenses including those related to transportation, education, employment, children’s needs, safety needs, housing, as well as time-limited and flexible rental assistance. The flexible financial assistance described in this document was developed through an investment in the Domestic Violence Housing First initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, led by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV).
What doesn’t it do?
It is not a continuing income supplement, so should not be considered as income. Neither is it a long-term rental assistance program.
How does it work?
When a survivor accesses a domestic violence program, the advocate asks about the survivor’s safety and housing stability. During the first interview and in follow-up conversations, the survivor may identify needs that could be resolved immediately by a grant, either directly to them or to a third-party vendor on their behalf. Advocates support and respect the autonomy and agency of a survivor to identify ways that their household’s needs and barriers to safety and stability might be addressed. Funds are distributed as quickly as possible to the survivor or a vendor.
What services are required?
Participation in domestic violence services is voluntary for the survivor. Survivors drive their own process toward safety and stability. Advocates provide support by listening, validating, offering options, providing systems advocacy, and supporting survivors to rebuild control over their lives. Survivor-driven, trauma-informed, mobile advocacy is a pillar of this approach within the context of Domestic Violence Housing First and for the desired outcome of housing stability.
What are the typical amounts of money given?
Disbursements have ranged from $.56 for renters’ insurance to $5,450 to cover move-in costs plus six months of rent. One-time payments have included court fees, changing a doorknob and lock, a mortgage payment, debt assistance, a graduation gown for a high school senior, and new tires. In California’s replication of this program, funds disbursed ranged from $.50 to $6,385.
Is financial assistance one time only or can survivors come back for more?
During our demonstration project, 43% of survivors needed assistance multiple times to work towards stability.
What is necessary to make flexible financial assistance work?
A low barrier approach to accessing this assistance is needed, along with rapid dissemination of funding identified by the survivor as needed for safety and stability. Trauma-informed and culturally responsive advocacy services are important for longer-term needs that may involve complex systems and barriers to the survivor’s ability to find safety and stability.
Does this approach work in all communities?
Domestic Violence Housing First has worked well in rural and urban regions, BIPOC and Tribal communities, and in immigrant and refugee communities. It has been particularly successful with very low-income survivors of domestic violence, and with undocumented immigrant survivors. In our demonstration project, 61% of flexible financial assistance recipients were survivors of color; 27% were immigrants or refugees. A key to this success was: the flexibility of the funding distribution; and the fact that the advocacy to support survivors was shaped by staff who were either a trusted part of, or fully familiar with, the community.
How is this funded?
Ideally, this approach is funded through public-private partnerships. Public funds can provide reliable and relatively larger funding streams, though they tend to be more restrictive. Private foundations, corporate giving, and community donors can provide important leverage and leadership by providing more flexible funds, not only for the type of expenditures but also for those that need to be made quickly. Stable public funding sources can also provide the funding programs implementing Domestic Violence Housing First need to pay for staff time and supportive services.
What is the evidence that supports the use of flexible financial assistance?
The evaluation from the WSCADV Domestic Violence Housing First Project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation showed that at the final three-year follow up, 88% of survivors supported with mobile advocacy and flexible financial assistance had obtained and retained stable housing. Ninety-six percent of participants who received services for at least 18 months retained permanent housing. It was the flexible financial assistance that truly allowed agencies to reach a broader group of survivors by offering a range of options for housing stability along with support to get there.
Our report from the Domestic Violence Housing First Demonstration Project showed that 45% of survivors were able to stay in their own home after receiving flexible financial assistance. Thirty-three percent were able to prepare for their move into permanent housing, while 7% moved from shelter to housed, 7% moved from one home to another, and 6% moved from homelessness to housed.
Promising results from the WSCADV project have resulted in a contract with the Assistant to the Secretary of Program Evaluation (ASPE), Health and Human Services (HHS), and funded by the Office of Crime Victims, Department of Justice to conduct a longitudinal study over 24 months on a sample size of 406 survivor households from five Domestic Violence Housing First demonstration sites. This study is specifically evaluating the longer-term outcomes for survivors receiving domestic violence mobile advocacy and flexible financial assistance. Cris Sullivan, PhD, of Michigan State University is the principal investigator.
Organizations across the country are implementing Domestic Violence Housing First based on our work across Washington State. The District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) has incorporated flexible financial assistance into its housing programs. In 2017, the Victim Services and Public Safety Branch of the California Governor’s Office for Emergency Services (Cal OES) funded 33 non-profit agencies in the state to implement the Domestic Violence Housing First model, including investments in flexible financial assistance for survivors. Evaluations of both programs show that the flexibility of funding is critical to meet survivors’ unique needs.
How can I learn more?
We’re so glad you asked! Please check out our Flexible Financial Assistance Toolkit for additional resources and tools.