Domestic violence is more than just physical assault – and safety is more than just temporary shelter. Economic abuse is a powerful tactic used by abusive partners to prevent their victims from leaving. Oftentimes abusers destroy victims’ credit, prevent them from obtaining higher education, bar them from seeking or keeping work, and deny them access to household finances. If a person is able to escape, they are often left to face severe financial challenges on their own, making them susceptible to returning to the abusive partner for support, or living in poverty.
In the strategic plan Safe Horizon adopted in the fall of 2015, we committed to meeting this need head on through new, cross-systems programming to help survivors build financial independence. This fall, we were honored to receive a prestigious Neighborhood Builders Award from Bank of America – this flexible funding is allowing us to pilot a new approach to economic independence in two of our shelter sites in the Bronx and Manhattan. Driven by this new opportunity, we have developed a seven module, trauma-informed, economic empowerment curriculum and are conducting a series of mock trainings at our Rose House shelter. Moving forward, we aim to bring this project to scale by expanding access to all Safe Horizon programs over the next 3 years.
The need for this new approach to healing and independence was underscored in Safe Horizon’s recent convening, Beyond Shelter: What Do Survivors Need?. This November 6th event, keynoted by Cecile Noelle, Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, and with panel presentations by leaders of public, nonprofit, and academic sectors, posed a bold question for reimagining services: what do domestic violence survivors need? Findings from a recent longitudinal study conducted by Safe Horizon (to be released in the New Year) were highlighted, and will guide our next steps in reimagining safety, economic empowerment, housing, and community within the local and national DV field.
Our Streetwork Project for young people experiencing homelessness continues to build unique community through empowerment, safety, connectedness and support for independence. Each day, in addition to meeting their basic needs, youth might join us by sharing their story in a poetry project, planning a next startup venture at the computer lab, having real talk with other LGBTQ young people “in the life,” making a photo essay of life on the street, sharing tips and resources for fellow parenting youth, or making real-world plans for economic independence.
One of the most special nights this season – an opportunity to celebrate, dance, and create with a group of incredible young people – was the Project Streetwork Fashion Show held on September 7th at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. Now in its fifth year, Project Streetwork involves four weeks of design workshops led by volunteers from apparel company, PVH, culminating in a runway show where Streetwork clients model the unique looks they’ve created. This year, the theme was “Carnaval.” Following the show there was a mini ball, an event growing out of the LGBTQ subculture house system, where clients and community strutted their stuff through the night.
Project Streetwork was featured in the New York Times as part of their coverage of New York Fashion Week.
Over the last several years, Safe Horizon’s Anti-Trafficking Program has focused on amplifying the voices of survivors of trafficking through a member-led survivors group, Voices of Hope (VOH). Through storytelling, skill-building, outreach, and advocacy, VOH works to build community among survivors of trafficking, broadening the impact of our work locally and globally. Continually adapting and growing to meet the needs of members, VOH hosts celebrations, trainings, workshops, and more throughout the year. It also provides a key voice in program operations, strategy, and decision-making for all of Safe Horizon’s anti-trafficking work.
This past August, VOH held its 5th annual retreat, bringing about a dozen of our core survivor leaders together to focus on the theme of “building.” Our aim was to build a nurturing, action-oriented program so members would feel ready and supported to step into leadership within the group year-round, including through our ‘train-the-trainer’ project and a media/communications training the week following. The retreat opened with a presentation from one of the founding members of VOH who shared her story and her experience around stepping into leadership roles. The day continued with a dance class, a presentation on Human Trafficking 101, and a trainer-education workshop to put knowledge into practice. The retreat culminated in a strategic planning session, co-led by one of our members, to chart the course of the group for the coming year. It was a powerful session, one which uplifted and held the work of survivors by providing the framework for the members to explore their own capabilities for outreach.
So many of the survivors with whom we work have experienced severe and complex trauma. They come through our doors seeking safety from violence, support to strengthen their families, and solutions to build a new life. But the complex systems they interact with – to get justice, healthcare, housing, food, school – can present some of the most daunting challenges. Getting from appointment to appointment, finding an apartment, and keeping a routine for children can be overwhelming, and with this survivors are expected to stay strong at any cost. With so many immediate needs, mental health can get pushed aside, especially if it requires going to a separate clinic outside of existing support communities. But the effects of trauma on healing are profound, and the lack of appropriate supports to meet survivors where they are is a too-common failure of the system.
Safe Horizon has long been a national leader in mental health treatment for survivors of crime and abuse through our licensed Counseling Center. Recently we expanded our reach by opening new satellite offices in other Safe Horizon programs, including most recently Lotus House shelter and our Streetwork Uptown Drop In Center. Now, clients can work to resolve their trauma onsite in a space of safety and belonging, without navigating siloed systems.
These satellites are just one new option for the integration of mental health in our services. Several Safe Horizon programs have worked with the Counseling Center to adapt evidence-based, trauma-informed approaches in every interaction, each day. This work was recently recognized by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which this fall awarded Streetwork a multi-year award to build out trauma-informed interventions to young people living with mental health and substance use challenges. In this and countless other ways, we are centering mental health as a key value in our client-centered practice.
Safe Horizon’s strategic plan lays out a bold vision of organizational excellence, and drives us forward in our commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution. This commitment builds on decades of work by several Safe Horizon programs, whose clients, staff, and leadership have long recognized how essential confronting oppression and marginalization in survivor experience is to building meaningful supports for ongoing safety and healing. It was given further urgency and centrality more recently by the Safe Horizon Board of Directors, who unanimously supported making our anti-racism work an essential part of our organizational plan. From this grounding, an expansive program of anti-racist organizational change has become a driving force in how or strategic goals are accomplished.
We have accomplished a lot in the last two years, mostly focusing on internal understanding, training, analysis, policy, and procedure – but the work continues to grow. As we enter the next phase of this endeavor, we are looking to integrate anti-racist values directly into agency services and practice, changing how we work on the ground.
Early in November, we conducted our first round of focus groups with Safe Horizon staff, convening colleagues at all levels and programs to learn about their experiences of race and racism, and to explore how to transform the experience of clients into one that fully sees, affirms, and meets the needs of historically marginalized groups. Participants were able to describe a wide range of ways in which systemic and individual racism affected their daily work with clients, and were eager to continue the conversation. It was a rich discussion that will guide what Safe Horizon practices look like in the future.
Since January of 2017, Safe Horizon has been intensely focused on preserving continued investment in federal funding streams that support victims of violence and abuse. Federal funding both supports a wide range of Safe Horizon’s programs – from 24-hour hotlines to domestic violence shelters, from legal services to mental health services – and also directly supports our clients who may rely on federal aid during periods of crisis. With mounting pressure in Washington to reduce or eliminate so-called “non-defense discretionary funding,” support for essential victim services programs in New York and around the country hang in the balance.
Safe Horizon is leading an effort to engage key federal lawmakers to deepen their understanding of how various federal funding streams support victim service programs. To date, we have met with the offices of nearly a dozen US Senators and Representatives and discussed the relationship between federal funding and support for victims of violence and abuse. In addition, we have met with the offices of both the Mayor and the Governor to urge them to identify alternative funding sources if federal cuts are enacted. Finally, we are deepening our partnership with victim service providers around New York State and with national victim rights coalitions in Washington to further amplify our concerns. This is a critical area of advocacy for us, and we will share updates relevant to the field and NYC community as they develop.
For more information about emerging projects and how your institution can be a part of them, please contact Stella Billings Vice President, Foundation and Government Support at Stella.Billings@SafeHorizon.org.