Survivors need affordable housing

Written by Erin Goodison

I’m standing with five of my coworkers on the steps of Austin City Hall at a Keep Austin Affordable Rally in support of affordable housing bonds. It’s already hot at 9 a.m., even standing in the shade. It’s a reminder of the importance of shelter.

But why am I, a SAFE employee, at City Hall with five other SAFE employees on the hot Texas morning?

The numbers tell the story

  • 80% of U.S. mothers with children experiencing homelessness had previously experienced domestic violence
  • Up to 20% of victims and survivors become homeless as a result of sexual violence
  • 27% of Texas former foster youth report experiencing homelessness within three years of having aged out of the system

For survivors of abuse, we know there is no path to long-term safety and stability that doesn’t pass through the front door of a safe, affordable, and permanent home. With the cost of housing in Austin skyrocketing, affordable housing is hard to get and hard to keep.

The people behind the numbers

As the rally progresses, we hear from Gage Kemp, who previously experienced homelessness and in now living in a permanent supportive housing community; Jennifer Hidrogo, a single mother who lives in an affordable housing community; and Henry Acosta, whose home was repaired by Meals on Wheels thanks to housing bonds.

And I think about Bonnie. As a child, Bonnie was abused by her mother’s boyfriend and at 15, she ran away from home. She was targeted by traffickers while living on the street and ended up being trafficked for 10 years.

She escaped the traffickers at 25 by marrying a gang leader powerful enough to get her off the street. It was another 20 years before she escaped the abuse of her husband. He controlled every aspect of her life – especially their children – and when the children were grown, he put Bonnie back on the street.

After a lifetime of trauma, Bonnie spent another three years living on the streets. She was also living with PTSD, panic attacks, and chronic pain. An assault by a stranger on the street sent Bonnie to the emergency room, and law enforcement connected her to SAFE.

Bonnie received emergency shelter, then transitional housing at SAFE. She received medical and mental health care, case management, peer support, and assistance to apply for and receive SSI benefits.

A lot of doors opened for Bonnie during her time at SAFE, but the most important was the door to her own safe, affordable and permanent apartment. Bonnie found permanent housing at a unit funded by a previous Austin Affordable Housing bond.

To Bonnie, a permanent home was a miracle. But a safe place to call home shouldn’t be a miracle. Safe and affordable housing isn’t only a path to escape abuse, it helps to reduce the risk of future victimization.

Making a difference in our community

At the rally, Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, and council members Greg Casar, Delia Garza, and Pio Renteria spoke of their support for an affordable housing bond package. It’s exhilarating to stand shoulder to shoulder with advocates and community members who are working for more affordable housing in Austin.

Standing in the heat at City hall, I felt exceedingly grateful for my home. My exceptionally dedicated coworkers. The work we do at SAFE. For the persistent hope and determination of those we serve.

We have much work to do, together as a community, to ensure that everyone has access to safe and affordable housing.

I hope that you will join me in supporting Austin’s Affordable Housing bonds as a part of the larger effort of creating a just and safe community free from violence and abuse