A Story From Northwest Illinois...

 

Ring, ring, “Crisis Line, this is Lindsay.” This is a daily occurrence for a domestic violence advocate. Some calls may be simple, like someone needing a phone number to another social service agency; some calls are more complex, like someone trying to flee an abusive relationship, but all the shelters are full. Then there are the calls that you never forget, like the one where a woman calls because her husband is hurting her and you can hear him screaming at her in the back ground and all of a sudden the phone goes dead. You are silent, keeping the phone to your ear, hoping she will call back, but thinking the worst.

Being a domestic violence advocate at a shelter has its challenges and successes. For example, in facilitating an economic empowerment group, you have a client that gets it, she wants to set goals and achieve them. She knows she can do it on her own for the first time; she’s optimistic and excited to learn more. Then there is the client that has been struggling with social security, trying to get disability because she can’t work due to numerous physical and emotional reasons. You help her fill out the paperwork, take her to your local congressman’s office seeking assistance, then later, you get the call from her that she was finally approved. Victory!

Some days there are more challenges than successes, like trying to assist clients in finding housing and jobs, which are both very hard to come by right now. They come back to shelter day after day feeling worn out and getting no where. Should they tell a potential land lord they are staying at a domestic violence shelter, will that hurt their chances or help them? It’s always a gamble; will they get someone who is kind and understanding, or will they get someone that only cares about the bottom line; taking in a client could be a potential risk if the abuser comes around and causes problems.

Living in a shelter creates chaos many days and you have to make the best of the situation, which means being a listener and a conflict manager. When you have that many women and children living in one space there are bound to be issues and it’s our job to sort out the mess and help them move on. Often, while listening to both sides and having them compromise, you are still answering the crisis line because you are the only advocate at the shelter at the time.

Many days you go home wondering, “Did I say the right thing, what if he finds her new home, did I listen well enough when she was upset?” Sometimes it’s very hard to separate your work from your life and who you are because you aren’t dealing with computers or animals, you’re working with people. People are very complex beings that have feelings and emotions. You come in the next day and do it all over again, and just when you think it’s getting too tough, or you wonder if you are really making a difference, you have a client who says, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m so thankful to be here right now, to feel safe for the first time in years. Thanks for listening to me when I felt like no one else would.”

 

February 2010