By Diane Hutton, Director, Crisis Shelter for Women and Children
Women often come into the shelter for the first time very fearful, broken and anxious. No one wants to come here: It’s the last resort.
That’s what it was when Penny* checked in. She and her children had fled an abusive partner. Her face was still black and blue from their last fight. When they arrived they were cold, scared and her daughter clung to her.
Staff got them warm blankets and some hot tea. They reassured Penny she was safe and she would be OK.
Penny’s response was, “I feel broken. I don’t think I’ll ever be right again.” Penny described feeling helpless to do anything to change the situation she was in.
The emotional and psychological scars are not immediately visible, but Penny was worn down by abuse and the lies she was told about herself. She admits she often felt that she deserved what she got. She experienced difficulty sleeping at night, anxiety, panic attacks and sometimes self-harming acts as result of the emotional impact of the abuse. Grief, anger, and fear encompassed her and she had a low sense of self-worth.
We want the Crisis Shelter to be a safe haven, a place of peace and rest. That’s what ladies experience when they first check in. They are given clean clothes, a place to shower, food if they are hungry: the bare essentials.
Staff and volunteers listen to them and try to reassure them, but it takes time to build trust.
The women need time. Time to decompress, to begin to process.
Trauma and anxiety
Children that witness domestic violence and chaotic home lives often “act out” in an attempt to cope with their emotions. Some children perform well at school but scream at siblings and mom and throw fits at home.
I’ve witnessed an 8-year-old boy yell at his mother constantly, criticizing her about everything she does. I’ve seen a 7-year-old girl that cries every morning before school and clings to her mom as the bus is waiting out front. There was a 13 year-old who suffers from migraines and withdraws from sports and friends, who finds it difficult to fall asleep at night and even more difficult to get up the next morning.
Though these behaviors present different challenges, they have one common thread: anxiety.
Our shelter’s purpose statement describes our approach: The Crisis Shelter for Women and Children exists to increase the impact of our ministries of rescue, recovery and restoration by partnering with staff, volunteers, and donors. We will do this by meeting basic needs in a safe, clean, temporary shelter, with instruction and guidance for life transformation in a healing environment.
We desire to love our guests right where they are, help them to set goals for themselves and provide resources and support in reaching these goals. We want to come alongside families with unconditional love and support and see them experience healing and life change.
Again I think of Penny, who came into the shelter so broken. She was defensive and easily provoked. Her kids, too, were reacting from the trauma they had experienced and were often loud and unruly, with frequent meltdowns.
Gradually, through consistent relationships with staff and volunteers, classes and chapel services, Penny’s defenses started to come down. She began to understand, open up and heal.
Penny began to parent in a different way. It wasn’t easy and took a lot of work, but Penny was determined to be the kind of mother her children needed.
Penny enrolled herself and her kids in counseling. She got connected in a local church. Penny was able to find employment, which greatly boosted her self-esteem.
I remember the day Penny came in to tell us she had found housing. Tears streamed down Penny’s face as she clung to me and shared how sad and bittersweet it was to leave this place. Penny and her kids still stop by now and again to donate clothes and needed items, never forgetting the fresh start they received here.
In fact, Penny’s daughter did a service project for the shelter through her school and brought essentials and little extra items for the children that she remembers were helpful for her when she was here.
The women who come into the Crisis Shelter feel broken and crushed by their circumstances and life experiences. It takes a lot of courage to come here. It takes tremendous courage to start over and begin to trust.
But I see these women as strong overcomers. They are beautiful and caring mothers, sisters and daughters despite the situations they’ve come from.
It’s a privilege to be here for them.
*name changed for privacy.
You can give life-changing time and transformation for victims of abuse by giving a woman and her children a safe place to stay this holiday season. Check out our gift catalog here.