ST. GEORGE — Finding affordable housing away from an abuser is a daunting challenge many survivors of domestic abuse face.
The Dove Center, Southern Utah’s nonprofit organization dedicated to serving survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, has recently begun to expand its housing services, thanks to new funding from the Housing First grant.
A shelter is one thing, long term is another
According to the Purple Purse Foundation, 99 percent of all domestic violence cases include financial abuse, which involves the abuser having control over their partner’s finances or ability to work.
When individuals cannot afford housing, they can become trapped in abusive situations or be forced into homelessness if they choose to leave. Those with children and those living in poverty are especially vulnerable.
The issue is paramount in Utah. The state continues to rank higher than national averages, with 1 in 3 women in Utah experiencing domestic violence at some point, compared to 1 in 4 nationwide.
“Most people are aware of the crisis period victims face — when a survivor enters into short-term safe shelter. That’s what we refer to as the short-haul,” Lindsey Boyer, executive director of Dove Center said. “What most people don’t think about is the long-haul.”
Studies show that levels of danger decrease dramatically when a victim’s housing situation is stabilized, Boyer said, especially if they also maintain a connection to domestic violence advocates.
A growing – and growth – problem
As the Washington County population continues to skyrocket, so does the number of survivors reaching out for help. Dove reported serving 748 clients in 2017, a 25 percent increase from 2016. However, going from the short- to the long-haul can be difficult on a minimum wage income in the country’s fastest-growing metropolitan area.
Housing costs in the St. George area continue to rise each year while pay wages remain static. The median home value in St. George is $271,219 and has increased 10.2 percent in the last year. The market rate for a two-bedroom rental runs around $900, which requires much more than minimum wage earnings.
The Housing First grant funds will allow Dove Center to work closely with rental agencies and landlords to help their clients find affordable housing.
Additionally, as of 2017, Dove acquired 3 apartment units through their merger with the Erin Kimball Memorial Foundation, allowing the organization to provide in-house, transitional housing for survivors.
“The need is ongoing,” Boyer said. “Helping our clients transition into long-term housing is one of our top priorities and one of our greatest challenges.”