Testimony to Joint Hearing by Committee on Women and Gender Equity and The Committee on Public Safety

May 1, 2020
Presented by
Alyssa Keil, Director, HousingLink, New Destiny Housing Corporation

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on domestic violence in New York City.  My name is Alyssa Keil and I am the Director of HousingLink at New Destiny Housing Corporation, a 26-year old nonprofit committed to ending the cycle of domestic violence and homelessness by connecting families to safe, permanent housing and services.

As frontline service providers at the intersection of domestic violence and affordable housing, we are here today to advocate for steps the city can take to move survivors to safety and shorten their shelter stays.  

Regardless of any external factors, survivors still residing with their abuser are always at risk of the abuse against them escalating. However, the environment created by the pandemic – forced isolation with abusers and economic instability – has increased these risks exponentially. Prior to the pandemic, survivors experiencing escalating violence at home may have considered entering shelter or temporarily staying with friends or family, but these options are now less viable or safe as they may increase the survivor’s chances of contracting the virus.  

It is clear that survivors of domestic violence need the City to look for new and innovative solutions to assist them in moving into safe housing. Two such options would be using hotel rooms to house survivors forced to shelter with their abuser, and expanding the availability of all vouchers and programs to be available to individuals and families in the domestic violence shelter system.

The city has already begun renting hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive for Covid-19. This could be expanded to additional hotels and used to temporarily house survivors sheltering with an abuser until the pandemic is over and they are able to safely return home or find other housing.

The Homeless Set Aside Program and Augmented CityFHEPS are two innovative programs that connect certain New Yorkers experiencing homelessness with affordable housing units around the city. However, only those New Yorkers in the DHS homeless shelter system are granted access to these programs. All other shelter systems, including the HRA domestic violence shelter system are excluded. As affordable housing projects remain some of the few apartments still consistently leasing new units in these times, it is more important than ever that the domestic violence shelter system receive equal treatment under city housing programs.

While many people have never experienced the housing and financial instability caused by Covid-19, low income survivors of domestic violence face these challenges every day. The pandemic has only amplified their challenges and decreased their options. Now is the time to take action to ensure that survivors are not forced to shelter in place with a person who is harming them and expand options for them to find long term safe housing even after the pandemic has ended.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today and I welcome any questions you may have.

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