Field Notes: Letting Survivors Lead the Way

written by Anna Blasco
October 31, 2012

Last month I had the opportunity to attend a training workshop on rapidly re-housing survivors of domestic violence. The workshop was conducted by Kris Billhardt, Director of Volunteers of America, Oregon’s Home Free program, who is a longtime advocate and has worked in the movement against domestic violence for nearly three decades. Her program has achieved some impressive results. From 2010 to 2011, 90 percent of the survivors who received Housing First services from Home Free attained safe, permanent housing, and 80 percent remain safely housed 12 months after exiting the program.

If you want to learn more about Home Free, you can read this best practice paper on Home Free, check out our domestic violence toolkit, or contact Kris about conducting a training workshop in your community.

Home Free’s philosophy is to give every domestic violence survivor a chance. The initial assessment they conduct is not about screening people out of the program; instead it’s about discovering any barriers that may keep the survivor from housing. Kris noted that it is impossible to know immediately who will be successful and who will not. People are resourceful, and can often surprise us. For this reason, the intake process at Home Free is minimally-intrusive and conversational. The advocate serves as a partner, and lets the survivor lead the way in determining how much help  she needs to end her homelessness.

Home Free also uses a voluntary service model. This allows their advocates to individualize the way services are delivered and treats survivors as experts in their own lives. Kris noted that mandatory services may have unintended consequences for survivors, like reminding them of a controlling abuser. Additionally, the program’s staff appreciate the way survivors respond to voluntary services. “People are really forthright,” Kris quoted one of Home Free’s advocates as saying, “because we don’t set up situations where they have to lie to us or lose access to services by asking for help around stigmatized issues.”