Finding Safe Homes Is Her Job

Photo of Tina OattsAs Coburn Place’s housing navigator, Tina Oatts is charged with finding safe homes for survivors of domestic violence. And she’s good – during one week, she secured housing for five families. “But that’s old news – on to the next,” she says. “Everyone who gets housed, I’m on a high for that day. Then it has to go because I don’t have time to stay there.”

Tina has a bachelor’s degree in social work and came to Coburn Place as a housing advocate. She has extensive experience working in mental health and social services and in property management and real estate. It’s a great combination. After three months as an advocate, Coburn Place created the housing navigator position, and Tina was a perfect fit.

As housing navigator, Tina works with survivors in the city’s Rapid Rehousing program. Some survivors will go from transitional housing at Coburn Place into Rapid Rehousing, but most are referred through the city’s Coordinated Entry System or by other organizations like Indy Champions for Domestic Violence Prevention, The Salvation Army or The Julian Center.

With Rapid Rehousing, Coburn Place – with primarily federal funding – pays the deposit and first month’s rent for a survivor. Then, if they are working, we cover a portion of their rent based on income, and the survivor pays their portion for one year. If a survivor is unemployed, Coburn Place covers all the rent for one year.

On a typical day, Tina starts with checking emails and voicemails, then pulls up her dashboard to see everyone she’s working with. She checks her notes from the previous day and gets to plugging away. Some days, she spends her time hunting for housing and going over client criteria and sending them links to properties that will work with us.

“No day is the same,” says Tina. “Maybe I have to meet a survivor to look at a house. I’m talking back and forth with a couple of different landlords. I’m talking to the rest of the team. Sometimes I pitch in and help them with paperwork. I’m making sure properties are reasonable and affordable and sending the landlords what they need.”

A big part of Tina’s job is going out, connecting with landlords and telling them about Coburn Place’s rental assistance program. Coburn Place added a housing acquisition manager to help Tina build those community partnerships and handle the paperwork so Tina can focus on matching them with survivors who need housing. “My direct service background helps me understand the clients,” she says. “I understand the trauma-related barriers they face.”

The overall housing situation in Indianapolis is especially difficult right now. “One of the big challenges is that the companies are OK with us helping to pay, but they want to know what’s going to happen after a year – they are looking long-term,” says Tina. “When I’m housing someone who doesn’t have employment, they still have to be approved by the management, and we might have to jump through some hoops.”

When a survivor is ready to look for housing, Tina will meet with them to find out what they want in a home and what part of town is ideal for them. Sh e works with them to find something safe and appropriate that will meet their needs. Survivors are also encouraged to look on their own. “I love when they take initiative,” says Tina. “Sometimes I have to reel them in and ask, ‘What is it going to take for you to get there on your own after our help is over?’”

She’s working with two survivors to find housing now. “One has a really good job, and one works weekends,” says Tina. “The one who works on the weekends needs the subsidy we provide, but the landlord sees she works and has enrolled in a school program that will result in a good job. So they are working with us.”

Tina already has a few landlords she works with regularly. “Having landlords who already understand the program makes it a lot easier,” says Tina. “Then you have survivors who are a little nervous. Some of the survivors in the Rapid Rehousing program have nothing. They are running, have no job or they had to leave it, leaving all their things. They may have past evictions or poor credit due to financial abuse. There are a lot of barriers. The more landlords who understand and who are willing to work with us, the better.”

Tina has noticed a new wave of private landlords getting smaller management companies to manage their properties for them. She says she has a lot of luck with those.

Tina likes her position because she enjoys her co-workers, and it allows her to be creative. “I love to see people housed and happy and off of the streets – there’s no better feeling,” she says. “It’s just a good feeling to know you assisted in that and helped empower them to move forward in their lives.”

If you own rental property and would like to learn more about working with survivors in Coburn Place’s community-based housing program, contact Tina at