Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Dec 14 2017

Heitkamp, Cornyn Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Prioritize Transitional Housing for Domestic Violence Victims

Since her Time as ND’s Attorney General, Heitkamp has Been Working to Stop Domestic Violence through Increased Legal Protections and Support for Survivors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and John Cornyn (R-TX) today introduced a bipartisan bill that would direct the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to increase transitional housing support for victims of domestic violence.

According to North Dakota Council on Abused Women’s Services (CAWS North Dakota) Executive Director Janelle Moos, federal funds urgently needed for transitional housing have been shifted to other HUD housing programs in recent years, which has limited the scope of survivor-focused transitional housing and has endangered the safety of victims who face economic barriers in finding alternative housing. In one survey, 51.5 percent of U.S. domestic violence victims who sought housing services did not receive them, meaning they may have been forced to stay in or return to an abusive environment.

Heitkamp and Cornyn’s bipartisan Help End Abusive Living Situations (HEALS) Act would prioritize funding for domestic violence victims’ transitional housing, increase flexibility in transitional housing programs in communities so that victims can get back on their feet, direct HUD to research more housing options to support victims of domestic violence, and bring attention to the ways transitional housing can provide safety for at-risk families and meet the trauma needs of victims.

“When I talk with the folks who provide critical intervention services to victims of domestic violence, the most important issue is often victims’ need for immediate, safe refuge and supportive services that recognize the trauma they have experienced,” said Heitkamp. “By diverting funding away from transitional housing, the federal government has been inadvertently forcing communities to shutter transitional housing facilities, sometimes leaving victims of domestic violence without a safe alternative. Our bipartisan bill would fix this problem by helping to level the field for transitional housing and encouraging housing options that best support survivors — so that women and children have the residential stability to permanently escape their abusers. We must continue working to stop the spread of family violence to keep our communities strong and safe, and this bill is a step forward  in making sure victims receive the housing, safety, and trauma support they need to begin the process of healing and recovery.”

“Far too many bureaucratic hurdles stand between victims of domestic violence and access to safe housing,” said Cornyn. “This bill starts to break down those barriers by prioritizing funding for and increasing flexibility of transitional housing programs so survivors can focus on getting back on their feet instead of fearing how long they’ll have a roof over their head.  I thank the many non-profits in Texas that support domestic violence victims, without whose input and support this bill would not be possible, and I urge my colleagues to join this bipartisan, common-sense effort to help victims of domestic violence.”

“Many domestic violence survivors need the supportive services transitional housing offers to get them back on their feet and out of the cycle of poverty, trauma, and homelessness. However, funds have been diverted from transitional housing in recent years, which has disproportionately and negatively impacted survivors in North Dakota by decreasing victim-specific housing programs,” said CAWS North Dakota Executive Director Janelle Moos. “Providers shouldn’t have to choose between losing funding and cutting supportive services, and our communities need to have the autonomy to choose which homelessness interventions work best for their community members. That’s why the HEALS Act is so important and why I greatly appreciate Senator Heitkamp’s work to introduce it and to continue to stand up for domestic violence survivors, as she has done throughout her career.”

Specifically, the HEALS Act would:

  • Level the playing field in the HUD scoring process for transitional housing that serves domestic violence victims.
  • Alter HUD’s selection criteria for community transitional housing providers to include evaluating an organization’s success in addressing the effects of domestic violence.
  • Guarantee an avenue for defunded transitional housing programs to reapply for federal funding and allow programs to receive the assistance and technical support they need.
  • Initiate research on the best housing approaches for survivors of domestic abuse and assault, taking the impact on trauma into consideration.

Nationally, the HEALS Act has received support from the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Across North Dakota, transitional housing providers have described increased requests for emergency residential options, emphasizing why HUD must recognize the benefits of transitional housing and find a better method of funding these critical services. On just one day in 2016, 80 percent of unmet requests for emergency domestic violence services in North Dakota were related to housing.

“In the Grand Forks community, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of victims of family violence needing emergency shelter. Lack of funding is an issue we constantly face, and the need for trauma-informed housing and services for these victims and families cannot be underestimated,” said Community Violence Intervention Center (CVIC) President/CEO Kristi Hall-Jiran. “As someone who sees the effects of sustained trauma on a daily basis, I know that the HEALS Act would be a critical step in addressing this need and preventing victims from being further trapped in a cycle of abuse. I want to thank Senator Heitkamp for continuing to be a leader on the issue of domestic violence in four state and for introducing this important bill.”

Heitkamp has long worked to support transitional housing for victims and bring greater attention to domestic violence and trauma in North Dakota communities. In October 2017 as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Heitkamp toured the Minot Domestic Violence Crisis Center and helped present additional funding for its transitional housing facilities. 

And in January 2015, Heitkamp and Grand Forks Police Chief Mark Nelson toured the CVIC in Grand Forks to see firsthand the innovative and collaborative programs it has implemented to support survivors, counsel abusers, and combat domestic violence in the region.

In the U.S. Senate, Heitkamp has built on her work as North Dakota’s Attorney General to combat domestic violence and stop those who seek to harm adults and children. One of the first bills she co-sponsored was the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which she then played a major role in pushing through Congress in 2013. Heitkamp worked to include a key provision in VAWA to address the continuing crisis of violence against women in tribal communities. The provision strengthens the existing programs and provides tribal governments the force they need to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators who commit these crimes on tribal land. In August, Heitkamp’s bipartisan legislation to combat domestic violence by promoting pro-bono legal services for victims unanimously passed the Senate.

In 2014, Heitkamp launched her Strong & Safe Communities Initiative to address emerging challenges in the state – including a rise in domestic violence – in the wake of the oil and gas boom. In 2016, Heitkamp released her Strong & Safe Communities Report offering a comprehensive set of proposals to address challenges facing North Dakota, including solutions on domestic violence and trauma and a host of other issues facing the state.

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Contact Senator Heitkamp's press office at press@heitkamp.senate.gov