How HEAL survived for survivors

Did I mention that I work for a domestic violence shelter?

Sometimes, advocates like to joke that we dream of the day that we’re so good we work our ways out of our jobs. Wouldn’t it be great if anti-DV awareness campaigns and counseling services were so effective, we all got stuck in the unemployment line?

The day that displaced many shelter workers did come, but wasn’t a positive one. It was actually a number of days – months – when the recession hit – hard – that put shelters either severely underfunded or closed altogether. It was 2008 and 2009 and many shelters are still recovering.

The problem with shelters is we depend on the federal government to support us, with a time delay. Our services are a front – we spot the government a year of our expenses and expertise, with the assumption that we’ll get reimbursed. Most of the time, it works, though in strange and dangerous ways.

But violence is political, and empathy has become far more politicized over the past few years. Early this year, the Violence Against Women Act was being heavily debated. It got thrown out, but fortunately put back into operation (with some improvements, though not nearly enough). Had it stayed gone, many shelters would have lost their funding. (Those operating on state grants would also lose their funding, because the federal government pays states to pay us.)

For reference, VAWA funding accounts for about 70% of our shelter’s budget.

In 2008, HEAL was scrambling. It had only been operating for a couple years. When funding disappeared, the shelter could have, too.

But it didn’t.

Because our fearless leader had built deep and lasting connections with a sizable portion of our community, the donations didn’t stop – they increased. Enough to make it through two years of very little grant funding.

The community hasn’t stopped supporting HEAL since then, because we didn’t reach out and ask people to donate because we were at risk. We reached out and asked people to donate because it is the right thing to do.

HEAL’s messaging isn’t about black eyes and broken bones, or about how poorly funded shelters are, or about how high-risk our situation is. We don’t chastise the public because our county is so poorly ranked in domestic violence statistics, or talk about politics, pain, suffering, or fear, because that is not what we do. We offer hope, safety, and confidentiality to victims, and we offer that same hope and empowerment to our community. The victims can become survivors, and Lincoln County can become less violent.

HEAL stands in a position of power today because of its messaging. Yours can, too.

Don’t ask people to help you because you might crumble. Ask people to help you because you offer a valuable and critical service toward the public welfare and help them.

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