Content warning: This article contains mentions of violence and domestic abuse.
Since its campaign launched in 2019, the Compass Center's Safe Homes, New Lives program raised $1 million to address Orange County's absence of emergency housing for survivors of domestic abuse.
The Compass Center is still Orange County's sole provider of emergency housing for those escaping domestic violence situations.
There were 148 victims of domestic violence-related homicides in 2021, according to a report by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation. This is a 10.4 percent increase from 134 reported victims in 2020.
Research shows that the most dangerous time for a survivor of domestic violence is when they are leaving their abuser. A research report by the U.S Department of Justice used interviews with men who killed their partners to find that threats of separation or actual separation were most often a catalyst for violent behavior.
Marilyn Jacobs Preyer, co-chairperson of the Safe Homes program's fundraising campaign, said the program's scattered housing model provides more safety and anonymity for survivors than a traditional shelter. The program leases apartments to domestic violence survivors across Orange County.
While abusers could find the location of a shelter, the addresses of the Compass Center's emergency housing are private and secure.
With the funds they raised in the campaign, the Safe Homes program has served six families in three apartments from July to December 2022 alone, according to the Compass Center’s Executive Director Christian Adams.
Before the Safe Homes project, the only option besides placing survivors and their families in hotels was traditional shelters, which Preyer said can sometimes be traumatizing or demeaning. Shelters often have other drawbacks including a lack of accessibility for those with disabilities and few additional accommodations.
Adams said most families stay in housing arranged by the Safe Homes program for three to six months.
She said the program provides families with case management and support with expenses such as food, clothing and gas. She said the Compass Center prepares survivors to sustainably thrive once they transition out of crisis housing.
Gary Bowen, a UNC professor and the former dean of the UNC School of Social Work, was an honorary co-chairperson of the Safe Homes program during its fundraising campaign.
Bowen said he was motivated to be a part of the campaign because he believes the field of social work is meant to help people establish a better life and achieve well-being and success.
“We want to do all that we can to support people who find themselves in the situation, from getting themselves out of that situation into a better situation where they can live their lives free of violence,” he said.
Bowen said the amount of community support behind the Safe Homes program has helped it provide safe alternative housing to families in precarious situations.
However, Adams said the program does not have enough funding for more than one case manager to support survivors in the program. She said this issue is especially prominent now that the three apartments are all in use.
Adams also said three apartments do not meet the county's needs. Because of this, she said the Compass Center has sent survivors in need of crisis housing to other counties.
“So that means that we're actually having to often displace families in our counties and regions across North Carolina,” she said.
Preyer said convincing landlords to partner with the Compass Center has been a challenge because many want to do background checks of individuals seeking shelter even though the Compass Center would be paying rent.
She said it would be helpful for property managers to waive this process in order to help the Compass Center protect survivors' anonymity.
In addition to financial support, Preyer said raising community awareness about the program is also beneficial.
Adams said community members can continue to support the Safe Homes program by donating online and bringing gift cards for grocery stores to the Compass Center. These cards are given to survivors in need of emergency shelter.
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