Targeting housing and domestic violence crises in Southwest Virginia

Rates of homelessness have been on the rise across the U.S. since 2017, increasing by 6%.1 Those experiencing homelessness face the challenge of finding shelter against the elements as well as disproportionate risks for health problems, including HIV, alcohol and drug addiction, tuberculosis and mental health conditions.2 These health challenges are exacerbated by limited resources/social services and lack of access to food and shelter.

Research notes a corresponding relationship between individuals experiencing homelessness and incidence of domestic violence. Of the women who experience homelessness, 90% have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse, and 38% of individuals who have experienced domestic violence also experience homelessness at least once in their lives.3

While Virginia has a relatively low rate of individuals experiencing homelessness and domestic violence compared to national averages, individuals in the Southwest portion of the state contend with these circumstances at a rate that has outpaced availability of community resources. In response, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Virginia donated $125,000 toward the development of a new 4,000 square foot crisis resource center for Family Crisis Support Services.

Family Crisis Support Services

Operating in the counties of Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott and Wise, as well as the city of Norton, Family Crisis Support Services (FCSS) aims to assist all people dealing with crisis situations concerning domestic violence, sexual assault and homelessness.10 FCSS began as a domestic violence hotline service and has since grown  to provide court advocacy, accompaniment, support groups, rapid rehousing and prevention housing services, emergency shelters, youth prevention programming and community education. 

Southwest Virginia is primarily rural, with a population of approximately 381,000.6 The rate of individuals living in poverty in Southwest Virginia counties is significantly higher than elsewhere in the commonwealth: 26.9% in Buchanan, 23.4% in Dickenson and 19.5% in Scott.7 Coinciding with high rates of homelessness across the U.S. in 2022, FCSS experienced a 30% increase in demand for services.

To better meet this demand, FCSS opened its new crisis support center in December 2023 to provide more Southwest Virginians with resources to improve health and life outcomes for themselves and their families. The resources FCSS provides have been clinically proven to make a difference: Research shows people who have experienced domestic violence and are provided with housing-focused advocacy and financial assistance are more likely to have improvements regarding experiences of abuse, housing instability and overall well-being.11

Impact of FCSS support

Over the course of 40 years, FCSS has helped 313,325 individuals. One family’s story illustrates their support in action:

Mia* arrived at FCSS with her husband and two children in need of shelter assistance following an eviction. During their stay, staff noticed signs of relationship abuse and carefully discussed the subject with Mia, who declined domestic violence support at the time. Mia, her husband and children transitioned to a private rental property.

A month later, the local sheriff’s department contacted FCSS on Mia’s behalf following a domestic violence incident that involved Mia’s husband attacking her with an axe. An FCSS advocate met Mia at the hospital and supported her over the next several months, assisting throughout the court process and engaging an attorney when her landlord refused to let her end her lease.

The FCSS advocate helped Mia get a haircut that didn’t draw attention to her scars resulting from the attack and arranged for her children to enroll in summer and children’s advocacy center programs. Today, Mia and her children are healthy and safe. She is now the owner of a small home and a new vehicle.

*Name changed for client privacy and confidentiality

With the support of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Virginia, FCSS’s services will continue to improve health outcomes and overall well-being for Southwest Virginians such as Mia and her children.

“The new facilities were designed and relocated to increase the capacity for victim programs,” said Marybeth Matthews Adkins, FCSS executive director. “The new crisis resource center, consisting of victim, advocate and administrative support spaces, can now offer stronger and more comprehensive services to help our neighbors get back on their feet. I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all funders and partners who turned a dream into reality for victims.”

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