Giving Thought: Ending stigma, housing survivors, strengthening community
Looking around our breathtaking valley, it can be hard to imagine that members of our community are victims of domestic abuse. The reality is an idyllic setting, and abundant natural beauty does not serve as protection from the reality that one in three women and one in five men will experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
In truth, victims of domestic abuse in our region often encounter compounded struggles. There has been no shortage of media coverage centered around the housing crisis facing our region. When victims of domestic abuse have a desire or need to leave their abuser, there is often nowhere for them to turn for shelter and housing. Nationally, domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children, and fear of losing housing is one of the top reasons that a victim won’t leave their abuser.
Response — a local non-profit serving those who live or work in the upper Roaring Fork Valley — seeks to change that. Their mission is to work with our community to end domestic and sexual abuse and to support survivors in achieving safety and empowerment. After 40 years of operating in our region, they are now in the midst of a capital campaign to build their first shelter in Basalt.
Embarking on this campaign is the result of their evolution as an organization and is not one that has been taking on lightly. Response’s executive director, Shannon Meyer, immediately saw the need to increase housing assistance for survivors when she joined the organization and set about applying for grants to make this a reality. In 2019, Response was able to launch its Housing for Survivors program with a federal grant from the Division of Criminal Justice Office of Victims Programs and a private grant from the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation.
“We wanted to test that the demand was there and build our skills around housing before exploring building a shelter,” said Meyer. The program offers three tiers of housing support, all are in high demand. Support ranges from three emergency nights of hotel accommodations, short-term stays in three units rented or owned by Response, and long-term rental assistance. Last year, Response provided housing assistance to 76 survivors and 62 children.
In 2022, Response lost one of its rental units and could not locate another due to the increased demand for housing in our region. They realized the time had come to explore moving forward with building a shelter.
The transitional units housed 17 survivors and 17 children with transitional housing last year, but Response had to turn away 13 victims. When victims cannot obtain housing through Response, they are generally forced to make the impossible choice of staying with their abuser or leaving our region altogether. Both outcomes are unacceptable to Response and are a detriment to our community.
Earlier this year, with a generous lead gift from the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation, Response officially launched their campaign to build the Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation Center for Hope and Healing and purchased a parcel of land in Basalt to build the first shelter of its kind in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.
The center will house seven efficiency units, including five for families and a caretaker unit for a member of the Response staff. Additionally, the center will become home for Response administrative offices and client meeting rooms. Each year, the center will be able to provide housing for 40-50 survivors a year, and they anticipate serving over 175 survivors from the center annually.
Safety is a top priority for Response, and the center’s design has put it at the forefront. Due to technological advances like tracking devices and social media, it is almost impossible to keep the location of a shelter a secret, so the location is not a secret and will be publicly known. Response already works closely with local law enforcement, and that will continue. Additionally, it will have multiple safety features to protect Response’s clients. Publicizing its location also helps to destigmatize domestic violence and makes it safer than “confidential locations.”
“Domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of socio-economic status, race, gender, age, or sexual orientation. Abuse is about one person holding power and control over another. It is not the fault of the victim and asking for help should not be shameful. That is why Response is here to help survivors. If the topic is not discussed openly, people will continue to suffer in silence,” according to Meyer.
No member of our community should be forced to stay with an abuser due to a lack of safe options. As the statistics reflect, domestic violence touches each of our lives in one way or another. The time to end the stigma and show our community support has come and joining Response in their efforts to take this important step toward building this Center is a powerful opportunity to do just that. This Center will have a tremendous impact on improving the lives of countless members of our community.
Allison Alexander is the director of strategic partnerships and communications for the Aspen Community Foundation, which operates with the support of its donors and works with non-profits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Throughout the year, it will work to highlight non-profits in the region.