L.A. Shelter Helps Women Recover from Abuse
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya.
Each year, more than half a million women are abused by their partners. Only a small fraction of them seek help. Since October's Domestic Violence Awareness month, we decided to revisit a program designed to give abused women a way out - the Jenesse Center of Los Angeles.
Six months ago, we visited one of Jenesse's two emergency shelters and spoke with a teen who took her baby boy and fled her abusive partner. Here's what she had to say about life in the shelter.
Unidentified Woman: It's nice. I love the staff here, the clients here -everybody try to make you feel at home. It's like we're one big family. We get up, go to school, take care of the kids, eat, doing chores, have therapists when we need them. It's a very good program. I would recommend it. If I would have known about it a long time ago, I would have been here.
CHIDEYA: But what happens after women get to through the initial crisis of leaving their abusers? Where do they go from there? The average stay of a woman at Jenesse's emergency shelters is only 30 days. But the organization also owns two secure apartment buildings where women can spend up to two years rebuilding their lives.
Associate Director Adrienne Lamar gave us a tour.
(Soundbite of buzzer, door opening)
Ms. ADRIENNE LAMAR (Associate Director, Jenesse Center): This is our - one of our undisclosed locations, and our undisclosed location - locations have high visibility light and security cameras outfitted all around for the safety and protection of the women.
CHIDEYA: Adrienne then introduced us to Annie - not her real name - who's the mother of a 14-month-old son. Annie probably finished tour that Adrienne started, showing us a comfortable, one-bedroom apartment.
(Soudbite of banging sound)
ANNIE (Resident, Jenesse Center): The kitchen where I've rediscovered the joys of cooking lots of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn bread. And it's a lot bigger - I mean, the size was really surprising to me. I didn't expect to have this much room. Look at all this space, and my baby's going to learn how to crawl here. And now he's learned how to walk here. I can be a mother in this space and a woman in this space and do what I need to do to live.
CHIDEYA: For Annie, to live meant to start over. While she was pregnant and on bed rest, her husband spent their entire savings, and they later became homeless.
ANNIE: I didn't want to be homeless in L.A. with a four-month baby. And I just wanted something, and I knew that there was something more out there. I just had no clue of how to get it. And I called the hotline and thank God, thank God.
CHIDEYA: The irony is Annie didn't even realize that her relationship with her husband wasn't just unhealthy. It was abusive.
ANNIE: I was very black and white in my thinking. I thought domestic violence was very straightforward. In fact, I remember saying to the counselor - she says, well, you're a victim of domestic violence. First words out of my mouth were well, he didn't knock me around.
CHIDEYA: Annie and her son spent 45 days in Jenesse's shared emergency housing. Then she had the chance to move on up to the transitional apartment that she has now. She has also gotten a job, has childcare for her son and enjoys the support of all the women in the building who are going through the same struggles.
In a given year, the Jenesse Center helps 10,000 women. Some can only muster the courage to make a quick phone call to their hotline. But many more are willing to make a change. Unfortunately, according to Adrienne Lamar, more women need help then can't get it.
Ms. LAMAR: The capacity that Jenesse has is a 156 beds at any given time. And we are generally always at capacity.
CHIDEYA: That means that women can only stay in transitional housing for two years at most. Annie has been in her apartment less than a year, but already she's excited, planning and ready to live life on her own.
ANNIE: I'm coming towards a point of closure, meaning I'm ready to transition out into my own life, my own apartment. I'd like to say that the girl who walked in the door is not the woman who'll be leaving.
CHIDEYA: That's powerful.
ANNIE: That's me. That's what Jenesse's done for me. I'll defend this program to the rooftops and sing its praises because it's been my midwife for the new me.
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