One woman. One horse. 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

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Improving Victim Access to Services

Several times a month, I receive a message from an abuse victim who needs help that they either can’t get, or don’t realize they can get, from their local crisis center.

Sometimes, helping them simply involves letting them know who to call and what services are available there.  Sometimes, they have some reason they don’t want to call the crisis center (often because of misconceptions about what its like to live in a shelter, or because they think they won’t qualify for services).  Other times, they have called but don’t know the right questions to ask (and for some reason, the crisis center doesn’t guide them well enough over the phone), or the crisis center is simply at capacity.

In each instance, their crisis center has somehow failed them - even in the instances where they haven’t even called.  I don’t want this blog post to sound like an attack on crisis centers.  They do good work for their communities.  Yet, there are so many ways that nearly all of the dozens of crisis centers I’ve met with, continue to fail their communities.  Not by any means intentionally, yet every woman who needs help and fails to get it for any of these reasons is an example of what needs changed.

If you work at a crisis center, please take note! If you have a crisis center in your community, email them some suggestions! (Or better yet, volunteer).

Need for more community outreach.  I covered this in depth in the previous blog post but it bears saying again.  People who need services, need to know the services are available! That seems like a no-brained, yet too many centers are doing too little to make sure their communities know that they are there, what they offer for services, and who is eligible to receive them.

Secrecy cuts two ways. On one hand, it’s important for shelters to keep their information secret, to protect their clients’ safety.  On the other hand, too much secrecy will prevent those who need to find their local center from being able to access it, or even knowing it’s there.  Every center should have a clear and easy way to be found for intake purposes (such as a separate office from where the shelter is), and be sure to have a web presence too.

Increase capacity.  Obviously this is a much more complicated problem to solve, and often more expensive than many crisis centers can achieve. However....

Turn no one away.  Some centers will help a victim seeking shelter even when there are no beds, either by calling around to other shelters until they find her one (even into other states) and arranging transportation to get there, or by making agreements with local hotels to house them there (often this is how they provide shelter for male clients). These are great solutions. Unfortunately, not all centers are that well connected with other local or regional centers, or simply don’t think to offer it when they’re full.  Sometimes, they don’t even have a waiting list for those women who are ready to leave but feel safe to stay until a bed is available, or maybe they have a list but don’t remember to ask those seeking shelter if they’d like to be on it.  A policy of “no one gets turned away” is actually possible, with some creativity and cooperation.
Break the stigma. Another unforunate thing I’ve found in talking to so many people for the last three years, is that there is a stigma about staying in shelter.  Also, there is a lot of confusion about what other services are offered by crisis centers and who qualifies for them.  Centers need to do a MUCH better job at informing their communities about these things, and also about what it’s like to live in a shelter (ie, that it’s not a giant room with dozens of cots and no privacy). Most “shelters” offer much more than shelter (such as legal services, counseling, and sometimes other help such as job boards, free supplies or clothes, and even yoga).  You don’t have to live there to access the services, nor do you need to prove income, have kids/not have kids, be a certain gender or ethnicity, etc.

Improved access for rural victims.  Rural victims wishing to access services have two primary setbacks. First, that there are not often centers nearby, so it’s even harder to find out who to call (or even if they know about the center in town, they may think they don’t qualify because they don’t live in town). Second, that it can be difficult if not outright impossible to get there (having limited or no use of a personal vehicle is common for abuse victims).  Crisis centers that serve an entire county will often only do community outreach in the largest town in the county, and/or the town where they’re located, but should make special effort to reach the whole area they serve. There should also be policy in place for how to transport a victim to shelter if they can’t drive themselves and don’t feel comfortable having the police involved.

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