Posted by Elizabeth Schön Vainer
Rachel* contacted us one year ago about her housing situation. After the initial call, a Journey to Safety (JTS) advocate met her in an emergency shelter to find out more about what kind of help she was seeking.
Rachel soon started to talk about who she was before her abusive partner robbed her of her self-esteem, confidence, and any financial security she had established. She remembered being a happy, optimistic person with job skills and a plan for her and her children's future. By the time she found the strength and the courage to reach out to us, she no longer recognized herself. Like many people who have experienced trauma and related economic hardship, she found herself moving from crisis to crisis without any opportunity to think about or plan for anything beyond her immediate situation.
In addressing the housing issue, Rachel explained that when she fled her abusive partner, she had to leave her housing voucher behind. Without a rental voucher and with some medical issues that temporarily prevented her from working, she could not pay rent. When she first inquired about regaining the voucher, she was told that if her attempt to get the voucher back failed, she could lose both the voucher and her emergency housing.
With Rachel's permission, JTS staff reached out to JF&CS Bet Tzedek Legal Services for assistance with the legal questions. Bet Tzedek staff clarified that Rachel had not "lost" her voucher but rather was forced to abandon it because of domestic violence. JTS and Bet Tzedek staff helped Rachel request an appeal and prepare for that hearing. JTS also spoke in support of her at that hearing. Two weeks later, Rachel called to let us know that the voucher had been reinstated!
Rachel also told us about her beloved dog, who had been a support and protector for her while she was living with her abusive partner. We helped her gain permission to bring the dog into shelter and make arrangements to retrieve the dog from family members several hours away. Then, when she was facing in-patient surgery, we connected Rachel with a wonderful program called Phinney's Friends. They arranged for temporary foster care for the dog and later some emergency dog food during an unexpected interruption in Rachel's disability income.
Along the way, JTS also provided gas and Target gift cards, as well as a referral for emergency food from JF&CS Family Table.
Today, Rachel is optimistic about her future. Voucher in hand, she is looking for a new apartment for herself and her children. She can finally begin to think about a future that extends beyond the end of the week and includes a job with reliable income and her family safely and permanently housed.
Rachel is a survivor and we are inspired by people like her every day.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Elizabeth Schön Vainer has been the program director of Journey to Safety, the domestic abuse program of JF&CS, since March 2010. Elizabeth is passionate about Journey to Safety's commitment to prevent domestic abuse. She believes that we must work at the individual, community, and legislative levels to shift our societal view that allows abusive behavior to remain so prevalent and damaging. When we focus on speaking up, listening to, and collaborating with others we can have a real impact. Prior to working at JF&CS, Elizabeth worked for 25 years in victim services at both the Middlesex and Suffolk County District Attorney's offices. Elizabeth holds a BSW from the University of Tel Aviv and a MS in organization and management from Antioch University.