Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A day in the life

Written by my friend who is a program director at Bradley Angle House Bradley-Angle House, a domestic violence shelter in Portland, Oregon (the oldest on the West Coast, I believe). This friend is one of my heroes; she works tirelessly and passionately on behalf of victims of domestic violence, advocates for a fat positive and gay friendly world and is a true social butterfly. She is intelligent, funny, kind, thoughtful and fun. And so flexible that she can, while standing, lift her foot over her head. She amazes me.

Let me start by saying that is fortunate enough to have such committed and knowledgeable advocates providing support and resources to the women and children that enter through our doors, call our crisis line or attend any one of our support groups. This is not an easy field to work in. It’s not the type of work that you neatly file away at the end of the day before your commute home.

When I provide the DV 101 training for all of our new volunteers, I spend quite a bit of time talking about how doing this work will change you. It will change the way you communicate. It will change the way you listen to the news, music, watch TV, observe others interacting with each other. It will make you question what you think you know about healthy relationships. You can’t do this type of work and walk away unaffected. You see and hear too much to not make change.

My day starts at 5:30 am with a phone call from shelter staff. One of the ladies is having an emotional break down and staff is concerned about her safety, the safety of other program participants, and their won safety. They have tried to call the local emergency mental health response team, but no one will be available until 3:00 pm to come to shelter and work with her. They suggest calling the police and having her transported to the hospital. Staff wants to support the woman in making her own decision, but is concerned she is not in the place to do that at the moment.

By the time I arrive at shelter 30 minutes later the woman in question has already begun packing her belongings and has decided to leave shelter. She is frustrated and feeling like this is not the place for her. Within 15 minutes of her leaving, before we have even had the chance to clean up her bed space we already have begun a phone screen with another woman with two children who need shelter.

Around noon they arrive. It’s been a long journey traveling across the US by bus with two small children. They are tired, hungry and grateful to no longer be on a bus full of strangers. It becomes apparent very quickly that the eldest child has witnessed and quite possibly experienced significant abuse. For most children, tired tantrums might consist of crying and flailing of arms, but this tiny four-year-old child stands with her arms firmly planted on her hips, looks her mother square in the eye and tells her she hates her. How do you know what hate is at age 4? Where does such anger come from?

By mid-afternoon it is time for shelter group. The ladies all gather together in the living room to participate. Today they are talking about support. Who are the people in your life that have supported and continue to support you? While sharing their stories they work with construction paper, glue, glitter and makers to make a tree of support. Each leave represents someone or something that has supported her throughout her journey to safety. They are smiling, teasing each other about their craft skills and generally just enjoying each other’s company.

As evening rolls around, some ladies are cleaning up the dishes from dinner while others are preparing their children for bed. The shelter is finally starting to quiet down. The hustle and bustle of the day has dissipated and the ladies are slowing down. This is the time of day when the mind finally has a moment to wander. This is a pretty common situation for most folks in general, but when your life has been turned completely upside down, you have had to leave your life as you once knew it and relocate to a shelter in order to be safe – this is the loneliest part of the day. It is the time you are thankful that there are other ladies around, both residents and staff that understand what you have been through, people that have committed themselves to creating a safe space for you and your family.

Shelter isn’t easy for staff or for participants. We all struggle everyday to meet each other where we are at and offer any sort of support and resources we can. It’s why we as staff remain committed. It’s for those moments in the day when everything is calm, as well as those moments when you know just being there to support someone in their crisis is all you can do. It’s a commitment to ending violence in our community and advocating for survivors everywhere.

Emergency Services Annual Report:

Our Emergency Shelter was home to 127 women and 105 youth last year, for a total of 4,425 nights of shelter. In comparison to the prior year, this represented a 30% increase in the number of women served —and a 7% increase in bednights. The program continued to provide high quality, life-saving services for women and children. These services include case management; domestic violence support groups; emergency food and clothing; advocacy; and referrals for housing, medical care, job training, counseling and other immediate needs.

Bradley-Angle staff are committed to providing culturally competent services to address the needs of the diverse population of women and children who utilize the program. Fifty-six percent of the women participating in shelter services were Caucasian; 17% were Latino; 7% were African American; 2% were Native American; 2% were Asian/SE Asian; and 15% identified themselves as being of mixed heritage. Combined, 44% of the residents were people of color. Seven percent of the women we served identified as being in a relationship with a person of the same gender. Forty-five percent of the women identified as having a disability; and 17% of the women spoke a primary language other than English, mostly Spanish. For most of the year, a significant part of each day was staffed by at least one person who was bilingual in Spanish and English. All of the shelter materials are available in both languages; and interpreters are utilized for house meetings, groups, and one-on-one work at times when bilingual staff are not on site. Eighty-six percent of the households had incomes at or below federal poverty guidelines at the time of entering the shelter.

Our domestic violence shelter truly was a life-line for the 232 women and children who came through its doors. Fifty percent of the women were under a direct death threat from an abuser before coming to shelter. Additionally, 29% of adult shelter residents had visited a hospital emergency room for abuse injuries, 13% had spent one or more nights in a hospital for abuse injuries, and 28% identified as temporarily or permanently disabled from injuries due to abuse.

Unfortunately, the demand for shelter continues to exceed its availability. We answered 2,625 crisis calls pertaining to domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, homelessness, and various other issues. Of these, a total of 1318 women with their 862 children requested shelter but were turned away, primarily due to lack of space in our shelter. This means that we had to turn away nearly 9 out of every 10 women (91%) who requested shelter from us.

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