Advocates working with domestic violence victims say an increasing lack of affordable housing in the East Valley is creating a barrier for clients to get back on their feet.
My Sister’s Place, a 30-bed shelter located near Chandler, is often at full capacity and rooms tend not to stay vacant for long, according to Dawn Curtis, the facility’s senior program manager.
“If we have a room for open, it’s usually just for maybe 24 hours,” she said.
The shelter offers a wide range of services for clients fleeing from abusive relationships.
Caseworkers are on standby to help them obtain welfare benefits, file restraining orders and apply for jobs.
But finding a place for clients to go after leaving the shelter is a challenge, Curtis said.
The average two-bedroom in the Valley can cost more than $1,000 per month to rent. To afford the deposit and first month’s rent, clients are increasingly depending on shelters like My Sister’s Place as a safety net.
“They have to stay here longer to save money to get into those places,” Curtis added.
The Phoenix area currently has the fastest-growing rents in the country, according to HotPads, with the median rent increasing by nearly 7 percent since 2018.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that East Valley residents have to earn at least $20.63 per hour in order to afford a two-bedroom rental.
Clients at My Sister’s Place typically can’t find anywhere to live in Chandler or Gilbert, Curtis said, and must go to central Phoenix for rentals they can afford.
Unaffordable housing is burdening victims of domestic violence all across the state, according to the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence.
Tasha Menaker, the coalition’s co-chief executive, said this statewide trend is jeopardizing the safety of survivors.
“As housing becomes less and less affordable, we are putting survivors in precarious situations and increasing the likelihood that survivors will return to abusive partners in order to avoid homelessness,” Menaker said.
Maricopa County utilizes a central hotline victims that can call looking for a shelter. The caller is screened and then referred to an open shelter that’s far away from their prior residence.
Facilities like Autumn House in the Mesa area reports their daily occupancy to the county hotline, but the 20-bed shelter often doesn’t have any room.
“We are full all the time,” said Sonya Underwood, Autumn House’s program manager.
Finding affordable housing for clients has become the shelter’s biggest barrier, Underwood added.
There are other organizations that can help with rental assistance, but getting these benefits can be competitive.
“We are all fighting for the same spaces,” Underwood said.
Clients can stay at Autumn House for up to 120 days, which is not always long enough for them to get all the services they need. Some clients are unemployed or struggling with mental health issues – making it harder for them to save enough money to find a place of their own.
The demand for shelter space has become a bit of double-edged sword, Underwood added.
“It’s great that we are getting people out of their situation,” she said, “but it’s unfortunate that we are unable to service as many people that are in need of that shelter.”
Organizations have begun shifting to a mobile model of service for domestic violence victims. Caseworkers are going out into the community and helping clients before they need to seek refuge in a shelter.
This type of engagement is successful in some situations, Curtis added, yet she worries that the present economic landscape will force clients to stay in unsafe places.
“Because there’s a lack of affordable housing, they probably end up living with people that really aren’t very good for them,” Curtis said.