CollaborationEnding HomelessnessPartners

Daya Houston – Bridging The Cultural Gap

Did you know that worldwide, 1 in 3 women are victims of domestic or sexual violence? Or that women of South Asian cultures can face unique challenges when trying to flee from domestic violence?

Daya Houston is an organization that works to empower South Asian survivors of domestic and sexual violence with culturally specific services to address their mental health, housing, legal, and case management needs. In 1996, a young South Asian Woman living in Fort Bend County shot and killed her abusive husband and tragically killed herself and her children. As a response, seven Indian women – all of whom were immigrants to the United States – founded Daya Houston. It started with a volunteer helpline, a number they still have today, and would offer emotional support to survivors, as well as meet in secret to create a safety plan when they were in need.

After 20 years, Daya now has nine full-time staff and provides licensed, trauma-based counseling. They work to ensure no survivor falls through the gap because of language barriers, immigration status, or case management needs. This is done through direct client services, which reach over 400 survivors annually, and provides education to the immigrant and mainstream communities. Daya is DOJ accredited to assist survivors in immigration status changes, legal support through a highly competent legal clinic, and housing to survivors through donor funds and Rapid Re-housing (RRH).

Rachna Khare, Executive Director of Daya, wishes the public knew the diversity of the clients they serve and the deep complexities their cases face. “The model minority myth in American culture falsely paints the South Asian community as one that is wealthy, highly educated, and successful,” says Khare. “This myth can cause our clients to experience a new set of barriers because homelessness or domestic violence are not seen as a prevalent problem in the South Asian community.” The complexities Khare mentions can include not having any friends or family in the county, social stigma, and limited proficiency in the English language which can create a set of unique barriers.

Khare says she hopes the organization can continue to grow and contribute to bridge the gap in social services and help build a more culturally-sensitive social services network in Houston. Why is it so important to have an organization like this in the Houston area? According to Khare, traditional danger assessments are not able to sufficiently capture the barriers these women are facing. The results are risks that are underestimated and underreported.

“Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. and as the city continues to grow, it’s important for social services to also expand and ensure that all populations’ needs are being met,” says Madiha Haque, a Housing Advocate for Daya.

As we know, collaboration is one of the keys to solving homelessness. “One of Daya’s three core values centers on collaboration: ‘We collaborate to meet the needs of our clients, community, and organization. We’re in this together’,” said Khare. Daya is a member of the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC), a partner of The Way Home, where Khare sits on the Housing Steering Committee. Daya’s Housing Advocate, Haque, plays an active role in HCDVCC’s Housing Workgroup, and was instrumental in modifying the Coordinated Access* housing assessment (also used by The Way Home partners) to better reflect the types of abuse seen specifically in immigrant communities. And Daya’s Counselor, Hareema Mela, serves on HCDVCC’s Emergency Shelter Workgroup, where she is working organizations to develop coordinated access shelters across the Houston area.

Haque says James Gonzalez, Senior Project Manager for the Coalition for the Homeless of Houston, has played a critical role at meetings with HCDVCC. She says James has does a phenomenal job at connecting Daya to various housing resources available from the homeless service system. Because Daya is a non-residential program, many of their clients stay at domestic violence or emergency shelters after they have fled from domestic violence. Many clients are also able to access health services from various CoC programs.

“Most survivors experience some form of financial abuse, and many of the clients we work with prohibited from furthering their education or getting a job,” says Haque. “Just as domestic violence is a hidden epidemic within the South Asian community, so is the poverty and homelessness that many of our clients experience after leaving abusive situations.”

To learn more about DAYA and the incredible work they are doing, click here.

* Coordinated Access is a centralized or collaborative process designed to coordinate program participant intake, assessments, and referrals to housing. It involves an initial assessment of the participant to determine the best housing and/or income intervention.