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  • Culturally Specific Support

    Every day, Haven Hills staff sees the devastating impact of Domestic Violence on the faces of the families that come to us for help; they are suffering both emotionally and physically. To offer the help that these families require, we often must consider the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the clients we are serving. A lack of understanding of a culturally different client’s values and motivations, or the assumption that they are the same as one’s own, can be a significant barrier. A ‘one size fits all’ approach to supporting trauma is not effective.

    For example, many of our clients were brought up to neither share confidences nor admit emotional pain to outsiders. The personal disclosure and behavioral changes that counselors typically suggest can often be embarrassing and totally unimaginable to clients who would rather “handle their own business” than seek outside help from a stranger.

    “Understanding the complexities of a person’s background and individual situation makes a huge difference in successfully assisting them in treating their trauma and achieve self-esteem,” explained Iliana Tavera, Haven Hills Executive Director. “We understand that beliefs and traditions are powerful forces in a person’s life and that providing culturally sensitive care is essential to supporting domestic violence survivors from diverse cultural backgrounds”.

    Clients like Cheri, a woman in her 30s who immigrated to the U.S. in 2003 from Bangladesh in 2003 as part of an arranged marriage agreement. Initially confronted with her husband’s verbal abuse, the situation escalated after a year to slapping, pulling hair, kicking and choking her when he was displeased. The verbal abuse intensified as he criticized her to the children, called her a prostitute and threatened to cut her throat.
    Cheri tried to leave many times, but she was financially dependent on her spouse and did not have friends or family in this country. After years of abuse, Cheri finally called the police after a particularly violent episode, and her husband was arrested in 2015. After his release, he left the country and returned to his home country.

    That year, Cheri began the difficult journey toward independence with the help of social services and the support of the Haven Hills Outreach Program. Learning to do everything on her own was very hard, but with the aid of Haven Hills’ highly trained counselors she has grown in confidence and has become self-sufficient. Ultimately, Cheri was accepted into a nursing program and graduated in 2017.

    Cultural and geographic isolation worsened by financial dependence on a spouse, can be devastating obstacles to overcome. Take for instance Amalia a middle-aged Muslim woman whose marriage to a man 25 years her senior was arranged by her parents when she was only 18.

    Her husband had always been emotionally distant and controlling of the finances, but in recent years he became increasingly abusive. He prevented her from working or getting a college education, and he kept her on a weekly allowance of $25.00, requiring her to account for every penny. His criticism and blame extended to belittling her to their grown sons and claiming she was crazy. On numerous occasions, he tried to force her to take unknown pills, despite being told by a psychiatrist, following an examination, that she did not need medication.

    Amalia found Haven Hills through an internet search in January 2016. At that time, she was wondering what she could do to make her husband change. Since coming to Haven Hills and attending support groups led by counselors specially trained in domestic violence, her self-esteem has improved. Amalia realized she only has the power to change herself, and she has started to work towards self-sufficiency and divorce.

    She recently completed a class to become a real estate agent. In addition, Haven Hills advocated for her to be a part of Pepperdine’s Microenterprise Program to develop the skills to become an entrepreneur. Amalia was recently accepted into the Pepperdine program and hopes to use the skills she learns there to develop a website and become financially independent.

  • Housing First Program: How Haven Hills Helps Survivors of Domestic Violence Find Housing

    For 43 years, Haven Hills has been adapting to provide domestic violence survivors with services to support their emerging needs. From our humble beginning as a hotline that operated from 9 am – 4 pm, when the Savings and Loan bank that donated space was open, to the opening of our shelters and our Service Center. 

    We pride ourselves in providing innovative services to help survivors overcome their trauma and build better lives for themselves and their children. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve been integrating more into housing issues over the past five years. Reports state that safe, affordable housing is often one of the primary barriers survivors face when leaving their abusive partner. Those reports also document domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness for women and children.

    In 2020, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) reported that 18,858 women, men, and children across the county have experienced or are homeless due to domestic violence, a 40% increase from 2019. Sadly, DV victims make up 41% of the total “unsheltered” homeless population or those living on the streets, in their cars, and other places not suited to human habitation. Although these are alarming figures, many professionals argue that these statistics are low and do not accurately capture the number of domestic violence survivors living on the streets. 

    We have seen survivors leave our transitional shelter for years now and struggle to find affordable housing. Upon leaving, many survivors often face two terrible choices: return to their abusers or become homeless. Societally, we urge survivors to leave their abusers, even going so far as to tell them they must leave. Yet, where should they go? 

    That’s why Haven Hills founded its Housing First Program in 2018. This program, funded through the California Office of Emergency Services, helps families find safe and affordable housing to ensure their safety. The program provides survivors with housing assistance for rent, utilities, furniture, and essential supplies. It also includes case management through our Housing Navigator. This staff member helps survivors locate and secure housing, ensuring they receive the supportive services needed to stay housed. 

    The Housing First Program has helped survivors exiting from our transitional program, crisis shelter, and outreach programs to find housing successfully. Before implementing this program, roughly 40–50% of clients leaving our transitional program obtained housing. In 2018, that percentage grew to 80%, and in 2019 100% of exiting survivors moved on to permanent housing. Without financial support, this upward trend would be very different. 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for this program. Dozens of survivors have turned to us to help them stay in their homes as they faced reduced hours at work or loss of employment. Housing First funding has helped prevent homelessness for survivors with no other options. When DV survivors must choose between living in violence at home or subjecting themselves and their children to violence on the street, we must do all we can to make sure that these are not their only options. 

    Maria Barahona has been with Haven Hills since 2014. Over that time, she served as its Director of Development and currently serves as the Director of Compliance. In this capacity, she oversees our public contracts and new program development, including Haven Hill’s Housing First and DART Shelter Advocate Programs.  
    Please visit the National Alliance for Safe Housing and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) for more information on homelessness and domestic violence.