Tag Archives: shelter

THE GAIN OF THE LOSS — HONEST ADVOCACY by Alexandra Hjerpe, 2nd Year MDiv Student

I have the choice to walk away from here: That is part of why I keep returning.

Cars, people and crumbling autumn leaves bluster on by the windows of the shelter, not minding the world around them, unaware that the lives of the people inside have lurched to a sudden stop. I hear the tick of a clock as I pass my mop over the creaking, wooden stairs. This sound is the evidence that time is indeed moving; otherwise, it is as if the whole shelter, as well as the women and children who take refuge here, have been crystallized in amber.

Time passes slowly, and does not heal all wounds.

I’m here at the shelter for my weekend shift as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It’s a part-time, paid job that involves tasks of maintaining a safe-house shelter and current residents, as well as responding to a crisis hotline for future residents. It’s also is a full-time, costly job that requires a certain sacrifice of trust, and loss of control, in humanity.

Trust often requires a kind of the will to not notice.

As a shelter advocate, I often find myself struggling to balance in a tension between practical restraint and compassionate openness when interacting with residents. On one hand, these individuals are highly resourceful, frequently dishonest, and every bit the survivors forged from the worst of experiences. On the other hand, these residents are persons who deserve the greatest attentiveness, honor and empathy of any God has created, and each were formed of, and will return to, the same dust to which I shall also return.

It could be me, living in this house. It could be Christ, bearing these open wounds.

Many of the people who take refuge at the safe-house would otherwise be homeless. Supported by donations of local community organizations, the shelter provides basic health supplies to these individuals that have been otherwise denied. I never knew it could be empowering to allow a woman to choose the color and size of her pajamas and slippers. I did not realize that it was a privilege of personhood for a child to have his own fresh toothbrush and toothpaste.

There are so many small, ordinary pieces of personhood that we do not know we own until we experience someone with impoverished autonomy.

Once in a while I have the opportunity to sit down with a resident in my office, offer him or her a cup of water, and listen to their story. Never offered an objective ear prior to the shelter, these persons may be long overdue for a time to express feelings, and become emotionally explosive: shivering with tremors of anxiety, churning with long-suppressed anger, or flowing with open facets of grief.

While these moments are a privilege, I cannot say they are a gentle blessing, inspirational, or personally intimate; they are frightening, painful, and very difficult to hear. I cannot underscore this loss enough, and urge you to not glamorize advocacy as you imagine the scene. Instead, I can feel my own Self and soul stirring, desiring to provide, as I listen—and then, compassion takes the form of an objective, silent listener, who will provide a tissue or a hand, upon request.

Part of advocating for the powerless means an intentional release of your own power and need.

I find this submission of my desire to comfort, provide advice, and to generally “fix” things to be the most challenging part of my work as a shelter advocate. The recognition of my innate privilege–and the loss that comes with realizing that others do not share this privilege!–conjures in me a mixture of guilt, shame, sadness and anger. Yet, feelings are messengers. Yet, this emotional energy is signaling my Soul to work: it is transformed into action, in which I engage the reality of privilege, and put it to work, per the context. With these persons who have been traumatized by the violence of physical – and truly, a deeply spiritual– abuse, the task required of an advocate is a release of his or her own choice, own need, and own power in a situation. Then, one may watch in wonder as a space opens up for bruised people to breathe on their own.

It is a marvel to help others realize that they indeed have a voice, and a choice, and a Soul that is precious, and worth holding on to.

This is the gain of the loss for the shelter advocate: that you pause, so that others may become.


An Interview with Norma Cook Everist

Lori Bruflodt has persistently provided a listening ear and a voice for people in crisis who have suffered some sort of loss or tragic event. She has been a volunteer at the Y Domestic Violence Program in Dubuque for the past seven years and at Riverview Sexual Assault Center for eight. “I heard about these centers locally and their need for volunteers and I knew I wanted to do this.” Both places provided 40 hours of required training.

Lori went on, “Riverview had a whole curriculum with topics such as, ‘What are you going to do for self care when you come home from the hospital where you helped someone who has just experienced a rape?’ and ‘Dealing with different cultural groups.’” Lori said there are significant differences. “Some groups, because of cultural views of the victim, will not report as easily as others. In some groups the entire family comes to the hospital after the incident.” Rape and domestic violence are part of every social economic group. Lori believes training is essential. “We learned a lot of useful statistics and a lot of myths about sexual assaults and domestic violence.”

One statistic: A woman has one of the highest chances of being raped in the first 6 weeks of her freshman year of college.

One myth: That most rapes are stranger rapes. “In all my years of dealing with rape victims, only one was a ‘stranger-rape.’ The others were by people who were related, an old boyfriend, or an acquaintance, a ‘friend of a friend.’ That’s a big one. You don’t really know the person, but your friend knew him and so you are hesitant to pursue legal charges or sometimes even medical attention.”

There are many sources of myths and facts about sexual assault and domestic violence. A good example is http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/3925/myths.html

Domestic violence is usually done by a spouse or a partner. When the victim is a youth under 18, criminal charges may be pressed by law enforcement. Victims over 18 years of age in most cases,can decide for themselves. And because of the familiarity they don’t press charges because they are afraid, “It’s my word against theirs.”

“As an advocate we don’t tell the victim what to do, but we explain to them their options and the steps they need to take now. Most of all I let them know ‘I’m here for you,’” said Lori. “That’s who an advocate is.” Lori went on, “And that may mean standing up to law enforcement or hospital staff for the sake of the victim. You speak for the victim.” That’s a persistent voice!

Who speaks for those who can’t speak because of Cerebral Palsy or intellectual disability? In those situations Lori has had to work with medical staff to make sure there is needed medical attention for people who might easily be dismissed because of their inability to advocate for themselves. Likewise, sometimes people do not take victims who live with mental illness seriously. Lori listens, sorts through the complexity of the conversation and then may say something such as, “What can we do with tonight’s crisis?”

The role of an advocate is important. Victims need to know they have a voice and choices: she needs an exam; she needs STD testing; the choice of whether or not to have a rape kit collected and the importance of timing if they choose to. The volunteer victim advocate can be called the night of the incident and often that hospital visit may be only contact the agency will have with the victim. It’s so important the victim receives clear, caring help at that time, and good information on referrals for help afterwards. Victims have been betrayed, often by a family member or friend they thought they could trust; it’s important they not feel betrayed again after the rape

Lori went on to describe her work on the domestic violence hot line and at the shelter. She has been called in when the shelter was short on staff and relied on volunteers to fill in. Lori said, “When women come to the shelter they will be living in community. They usually come from having lived in a violent situation and there are issues. It’s tough. It’s stressful. They come to the shelter because they have no one else with whom to live. They bring their children, often fleeing a dangerous situation quickly. The whole family has one bedroom no matter how many children. They have no storage. The residents all share a living room, kitchen and bathroom with people who are at first strangers. We help facilitate living in community.

I would also answer the 24-hour hot line. As I sat by the phone in the shelter, women would come in and talk. We would have conversations about their options. You listen, particularly when they wonder if they should go back to the abusive situation, and you say, ‘What would it look like if you went back? How would it be different or not? What other options might you be able to find?’ They prepare a safety plan before they leave the shelter. ‘Could the situation be lethal? Do you need a restraining order? Do you need a 911 cell phone? Do you have people who could check in with you to see how you are and how you are doing?’ ”

The issues are long term and complex. If there has been a separation or divorce, and there are children involved, there can be issues of joint custody and visitations. Where is it safe to meet to exchange the children if the parents can’t get along? One local church had provided a safe place for such meetings. Lori went on to describe how volunteers help victims of domestic violence make safety plans and action plans for life. “If you need to leave the shelter in sixty days, what do need to do to be able to find work? To find housing?”

Sometimes a woman leaves her family and needs to tell no one where she is going lest she be found by the person looking for her who could be dangerous. The result is a combination of fear, and the resulting loneliness. Lori recalls a woman at the shelter on Thanksgiving by herself because she had to leave her situation and tell no one where she was, so had nowhere to go for the holiday meal. “That woman’s situation sticks with me,” says Lori.

Lori said that people sometimes ask about her volunteer work, “Don’t you get paid?” “How awful to go to the hospital and hear the story of rape. I could never do that.” Lori says, “If I can find the strength and have skills to do this, then I need to. Somebody has to be there for these people. There are lots of ways to volunteer. You have to know what your gifts are. There are other things other people volunteer to do that may not be my gifts. When I come home at 3:00 a.m. from a hospital visit and need to work the next day and lay there awake because I can’t get to sleep, I sometimes ask, ‘Why did I do this?’ Then I remember the times I made a difference. I may never know what became of the person afterwards, but I know I did the best I could and was there for the victim when she or he would not have had a voice.”

Lori Bruflodt soon will be taking a new position as a Crisis Recovery Team Counselor at the Hillcrest Family Services Crisis Center here in Dubuque. She hopes that in two years she will be licensed as a Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in the state of Iowa. She received an M.A. degree in Clinical Counseling from Loras College in Dubuque in December, 2008. She has been Director of Information Technology for 18 years at Wartburg Seminary and will continue part time at Wartburg for awhile to make the transition as smooth as possible. She knows she will miss Wartburg, but also knows that counseling has been dear to her heart for a long time. Lori says she will hate to give up some of the volunteer work she has done these years, but with her new employment cannot be on call for three places at the same time. Lori is so well known at Wartburg and her work here is deeply appreciated; the total impact of her persistent service as a volunteer may never be known but has no doubt changed countless lives.