Domestic violence victims thankful for Aspen nonprofit’s new housing program
IF YOU NEED HELP…
Domestic violence is defined as a pattern or behavior used to establish power and control over another person by invoking fear and intimidation through physical, emotional, psychological, economic and/or sexual abuse.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, or know of someone who may be, please call the Response 24/7 crisis helpline at 970-925-7233, or visit responsehelps.org for more information.
Many American families will take part in the centuries-old Thanksgiving traditions of sharing food and reflecting on what they are grateful for.
Most will mention family and friends. Locals and visitors may add they are thankful for the recent blast of early-season snow.
But for some Aspen residents, what they feel especially grateful for this Thanksgiving Day is that they have a safe, affordable place to stay through the help of a relatively new housing program from a local nonprofit group.
“I feel safe, I feel very safe. They do a lot to help me keep moving forward every day,” said a domestic violence survivor in the Response housing program. “I feel I am not alone.”
Response aims to educate people on domestic and sexual abuse and support survivors from Aspen to El Jebel.
In May, after receiving more than $400,000 through a Victims of Crime Act federal grant and a large undisclosed donation from the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation, Response launched its first multi-tiered housing assistance program.
According to 2018 data collected in Colorado by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, 1,296 requests for support were made in a 24-hour period by adults and children across the state looking to escape domestic violence.
Of those requests, 72% were for housing.
“The fear of losing safe and affordable housing is one of the top reasons people don’t leave their abuser,” Response executive director Shannon Meyer said. “Helping with housing may be the hook to get some people to come in and finally start thinking about leaving an abusive relationship.”
Through the program so far, Meyer said Response advocates have helped 32 women and 32 children secure emergency shelter for up to a weekend, a week to three-month stay at the nonprofit’s transitional housing rental and/or help to find and pay for an affordable housing option away from the client’s unsafe situation.
Two local women who have utilized Response’s housing program to escape domestic violence spoke with The Aspen Times in the past week. To protect their safety, The Times is not using their names.
For one woman, her escape came on a night when a long-term relationship turned violent and she feared for her life. She reached out to Response and stayed the weekend at a local hotel.
The woman said she has received support from Response in a variety of ways for more than seven years and has always felt the nonprofit’s advocates have had her back.
“At that point I was in a tight spot and just needed a safe place for the weekend to allow me to regroup and figure out what I was going to do,” the woman said. “(Response advocates) were the first people who really believed in me and have always put support in place so I could get the help I needed.”
According to Meyer and Tiffaney Bledsaw, the housing program manager, Response’s emergency housing assistance is not new. Through partnerships with six local hotels, advocates have been able to book their clients for one to three days, which some would refuse because they knew they would just be right back where they started after the stay was over, Meyer and Bledsaw said.
But now through the tiered housing program, a client can move from emergency housing to the temporary housing unit if it is available and then work with Bledsaw to find a permanent, affordable shelter, with up to a year of rent assistance from Response.
Another Response client she doesn’t know where she would be without that longer-term housing and rent assistance.
A single mother, the woman was in an emotionally abusive relationship she was able to get out of, but she was spending 75% of her paycheck on rent until Response helped her finance into a more affordable unit in September.
“For a working single mom trying to make a living, especially in Aspen, it is not easy. It’s very tough and housing is not easy to find,” the woman told the Times on a recent afternoon while sitting with Meyer and Bledsaw. “If I didn’t meet (Meyer and Bledsaw), I don’t know how I would have survived until today.”
Moving forward, Meyer and Bledsaw hope to help more women escape emotional, physical, financial and sexually abusive relationships through housing assistance.
Response has one more year of its federal grant, Meyer and Bledsaw said, and wants to add a hotel partnership in Basalt, another transitional rental unit and more funding and community collaboration to its program.
Regardless, because of the need across the state and the nation, Meyer and Bledsaw are grateful to have the housing program. Bledsaw said she enjoys helping clients gain safe, sustainable independence, whether it’s long-term or short-term. She also checks in with clients who are no longer with the program to ensure they are thriving on their own.
“It’s a path of empowerment. We’re not just going to do everything for someone, we’re going to help them learn how to do it on their own,” said Bledsaw, who has experienced abuse in her past.
“This is the work I’ve always wanted to do. Helping someone in this situation is so rewarding and fulfilling, and they’re so appreciative. If they’re safe and happy, that makes me happy.”