Free lock-change law aims to help domestic violence survivors stay in their homes

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By Dan Sears

The New York City Council is expected to greenlight a program on Thursday that will give domestic violence survivors across the city access to free and speedy lock changes.

The program will send locksmiths to install new locks within three days and comes amid a rise in reports of domestic violence in the city. The aim is to allow more people to stay in their homes and nearby their established support networks, including schools, places of worship and family, instead of moving into shelters.

Domestic violence is one of the city’s leading drivers of homelessness, according to a 2019 report by then-Comptroller Scott Stringer, which found that it accounted for 41% of families entering local shelters.

While the Council is expected to sign the program into law on Thursday, lawmakers said it will take about a month to get it up and running.

“Survivors should have the opportunity to rebuild their lives in the communities that are home to them and their children and not be forced out because of fears of an abuser,” said City Councilmember Shahana Hanif of Brooklyn, who sponsored the bill.

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The nonprofit victim assistance group Safe Horizon also offers lock change services. Anyone who needs help can contact the nonprofit online or by calling 347-328-8069.

Last year, Safe Horizon changed 581 locks through its free lock change program, according to the organization.

Safe Horizon Policy Director Jimmy Meagher said lock changes are helpful tools in the safety plans his group builds with survivors.

He said his team worked with a woman in the Bronx who had been assaulted and strangled by her partner in January. Although her partner was arrested and the woman won a court order of protection, she feared he might have an extra set of keys to enter her home. Safe Horizon’s Project SAFE program got her locks changed the next day, Meagher said.

“The order of protection made her feel better, but changing the locks really helped her feel that much safer,” he said, adding that the organization also helped the woman access medical resources and social services.

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Reports of domestic violence have been rising significantly in New York City, according to state and city data. The NYPD recorded more than 119,000 domestic violence complaints citywide in 2022, up from 89,000 in 2021. Last September, officers responded to more than 15,000 complaints of domestic violence citywide, police data shows.

The city-run initiative for free lock changes started as a pilot program in 2022 through the Mayor’s Office to End Gender-Based Violence. Last year, 233 people received free locksmith services through the pilot, said Saloni Sethi, the office’s acting commissioner. In September, the program was put on hold as demand exceeded program capacity, according to the office.

Lawmakers said the expanded service will not require any documentation of survivorship, such as police reports or orders of protection, nor landlord approval for a new or changed top lock.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger from domestic violence, call 911. Otherwise call the New York City Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-621-HOPE (4673), or the New York City Rape and Sexual Assault Hotline 212-227-3000 or Text: 866-604-5350 .

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