American Builders Quarterly
By Zach Baliva
April 1, 2016
At age 25, Maria already had experienced the terror of domestic violence. When the incidents escalated and threatened her life, she decided to leave. However, with four children and limited language skills, the scared young woman faced additional obstacles. That’s when she found a Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Shelter, where she received much more than housing. A 10-week workshop helped her develop parenting skills. Job advocates helped her find work. Other professionals helped her through social services programs. Eventually, she found a new apartment, and started on her road to recovery.
That’s the kind of story that attracted Barry Gendelman to Safe Horizon. After starting his career as a city planner in New York City government during the 1980s and managing large portfolios of city-owned properties, he moved to the city’s public hospital system as director of real estate. By 2012, he was looking for something new and realized his expertise in facilities management could assist Safe Horizon. We provide critical services for 57 program locations, including eight domestic violence shelters, five child-advocacy centers, and two youth drop-in locations. Safe Horizon is the largest nonprofit victim services agency in the country. Each year, we touch the lives of more than 250, 000 victims of violence and abuse.
To help those who feel powerless, Safe Horizon staff prioritizes understanding their clients’ needs. “We’re trying to create a welcoming environment for clients who find themselves in very difficult situations, ” he says. “Our facilities are designed to meet their needs for safety and to give them back some control, which in most cases has been taken from their lives.”
His teams take simple steps, such as altering appearance, colors, and furniture choices. Warm tones and comfortable fixtures take Safe Horizon out of the institutional realm. Site staff members greet clients and work closely to provide associated counseling, beds, job-placement services, and meals.
Since joining the organization in 2012, Gendelman has surveyed existing facilities to learn what’s worked best in the past. With those lessons in mind, he’s become involved with the planning of new facilities, including one recently opened child advocacy center (CAC) in the Bronx. On-site partners at this center include the Administration for Children’s Services, District Attorney’s office, Montefiore Medical Center, and the New York Police Department all working together to investigate and respond to the most serious cases of child abuse in the borough. Gendelman, therefore, must meet two competing requirements—he has to meet strict safety regulations and give each partner agency customized space to conduct their investigations, and he also must build unintimidating, child-friendly environments where children feel both physically and psychologically safe. To lead the project, he engaged a team of owners and architects early and took feedback from all partners at every phase.
After a traumatic event, child abuse victims come to the CAC—and so do their abusers. Victims and abusers enter through separate, isolated corridors and never cross paths. Experts say it’s best for an organization like Safe Horizon to provide the wrap-around services that child victims need in one location. Safe Horizon’s CACs include medical exam rooms, interview and counseling rooms, jail cells, line-up rooms, and security systems that all meet NYPD and Department of Corrections requirements. Gendelman says each Safe Horizon structure is developed with its users in mind. “Our clients often feel powerless, and we make sure we work collaboratively with them to address the concerns that are most important to them, ” he says, adding that his peers on the programming side follow the same philosophy of understanding.