Allegheny County violence shelters team up for program to promote independent living |
Valley News Dispatch

Allegheny County violence shelters team up for program to promote independent living

Emily Balser

For survivors of domestic violence, starting their lives over can be a daunting task.

Some never had the opportunity to have their own money.

Others don’t know how to look for an apartment.

Even more still feel fearful of their abuser.

Four domestic violence centers in Allegheny County started a new program last month that aims to provide housing and an individualized support system for survivors so they can reclaim their independence.

The Alle-Kiski HOPE Center, Center for Victims, Crisis Center North and Women’s Center & Shelter of Pittsburgh have all partnered for the Domestic Violence-Unified Project (DV-UP), which utilizes new money released by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development specifically earmarked for domestic violence survivors.

“I think one of the most prominent barriers is that, along with any events of psychical violence in a domestic violence relationship, the victim has also experienced financial abuses, emotional abuses,” said Michelle Gibb, executive director of the Alle- Kiski HOPE Center, with headquarters in Tarentum. “He or she may not have had experience writing a check, knowing what it takes to pay the bills because they were deprived involvement in those money aspects of the relationship.”

Goal: 50 units year

The centers submitted their project proposal and were approved to provide 50 units per year of what they call rapid rehousing to quickly help families and individuals get out of homelessness and into more permanent housing.

“It’s very difficult whenever you may have not had a lot of control in your life to all of a sudden have that control,” said Bethany Wingerson, director of domestic violence services with Center for Victims.

Wingerson said there is always a need for more affordable housing for victims of domestic violence and the DV-UP program helps alleviate that.

“Affordable housing is really where we’re struggling,” she said.

Officials with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services said they are impressed with the initiative the four organizations took to provide housing across the county.

Cynthia Shields, assistant director of the DHS Office of Community Services, said she looks forward to seeing what they can accomplish.

“It is not always easy for a group of providers to come together and agree to provide services in a collaborative manner,” she said. “I think what we’re really excited about is this group of four (providers) has really come together in such a strong and meaningful and strategic way.”

DHS Housing Program Administrator Rob Eamigh said the program received $750,000 in HUD funding, which will pay for rent and utilities for up to nine months.

While the program does pay for up to nine months, some people might only need it for one or two.

“Everybody has their own issues and own situations that they’re dealing with,” he said. “Some folks need a little more help.”

Key to better life: Safe, affordable housing

Nicole Molinaro, executive director of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Pittsburgh, said there are a lot of factors that go into a domestic violence survivor finding a place to live, including where their abuser lives, how far they can travel, how familiar they are with other parts of the county and where their friends and family live.

“Safe, affordable housing is one of the most important pieces to helping survivors to stay living a life free from violence, and it’s also one of the hardest pieces,” Molinaro said.

Grace Coleman, executive director of Crisis Center North, said this program is unique because it’s patterned to the people instead of being patterned to a program.

“What excites me about this as well is that survivors are choosing where they want to live. There is no stigma involved,” she said. “They are a part of the community.”

Molinaro said once victims feel safe and confident on their own, their lives can really begin to turn around.

“That’s when you can truly start the healing process,” Molinaro said.

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