In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month we welcome Peg Hacskaylo, Executive Director of District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) to 7 Questions. DASH provides relief to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, through emergency and long-term safe housing, and innovative homelessness prevention services. Peg has been a dedicated advocate to alleviate homelessness for battered women for 20 years. Her work has spanned government, business, nonprofit, and community organizations to address this complex issue.
- What motivated you to begin working with your organization?
The first question people usually ask when they hear that someone is experiencing domestic violence is, Why doesn’t she just leave? In 2006 victims of domestic and sexual violence faced multiple barriers to not just leaving abusive homes but finding safe, affordable housing in Washington, DC. I founded DASH to ensure that abuse survivors, regardless of their circumstances, had access to a full range of housing options, as well as to create more options than there were at the time, so that they don’t have to become homeless in order to become safe from violence.
- What exciting change or innovation is on your mind?
Our programs take the broadest, yet most individualized, approach to achieving our mission. Through the use of our model which articulates the principles that guide our programs, the organizational structure to facilitate those programs, and the organizational culture to support best practice, we have developed a flexible, nuanced method for providing housing with dignity and compassion. It’s the part of DASH that’s the most unique and innovative. It’s how we’re able to help victims who might otherwise be ineligible for housing, including those with chemical addictions, mental illness, documentation issues, and the like. It’s how we’re able to house people who have been traumatized without burdening them – or our staff – with a lot of rules and restrictions. And it’s how we’re able to encourage systems transformation to establish more safe housing options for survivors.
- Who inspires you (in the philanthropy world or otherwise)? Do you have a hero?
The people who inspire me the most are the staff at DASH. Helping survivors escape violent situations and reconstruct their lives can be incredibly rewarding, as well as stressful, painstaking, and sometimes discouraging. When I see the amazing work that DASH staff do every day, supporting victims while working to make a difference in the world, I am moved to ensure they have all the resources they deserve and ultimately create a culture where safe housing is a right shared by everyone.
- What was your most interesting recent project/partnership?
In February 2013, DASH launched the Survivor Resilience Fund., our most recent strategy to help families facing homelessness as a result of domestic and sexual violence, by providing emergency financial assistance and support. Whether through support for housing expenses such as back rent or moving costs, or other expenses such as car repairs or child care, we believe that survivors, given the right resources and targeted support, have the resilience to recover from abuse and move forward with their lives in the best way possible. Over the last eighteen months, DASH has helped dozens of survivors and their families obtain or remain in permanent housing and become safe from violence for about one-tenth the cost of housing them in shelter. We believe it’s making a major difference in the lives of survivors in the city.
- What is the single greatest challenge that your organization faces (besides finances) and how are you dealing with this challenge?
Our greatest challenge in recent years has been creating and sustaining housing options quickly enough to meet the growing need. As victims time-out of crisis shelters and desperately seek longer-term housing options, DASH has seen an increasing demand for services. This, compounded by the failing economy, budget cuts, and the loss of affordable housing in the city, creates a triple-whammy both for DASH and the families we serve. We aim to strengthen the local safety net for survivors while also engaging lawmakers, community members, service providers, and survivors in a movement to make safe housing more accessible in the short-term and less necessary in the long-term.
- What advice do you have for other people in your position?
Get enough sleep, exercise, leafy greens, and support from the people you love. This work demands a lot of energy, stamina, and strength, so your investment in yourself is probably your best, and arguably most important, investment in the organization.
- What?s next/coming up for you?
We remain steadfast in our goals to ensure access to safe housing that meet the needs of all survivors, provide the resources to help them avoid homelessness as the primary option for living free from abuse, and act to safeguard their right to set the course of their own lives. We hope to advance our work at the local level to increase housing options for survivors; increase momentum at the national level to share our expertise and lessons learned; and, develop and disseminate our model with other nations around the world.