2021 Giving Guide: Safe Space: Abuse prevention agency creating shelter concept in pandemic’s wake

The Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse needs community help to receive the final $1 million donation promised by an anonymous donor for shelter expansion.

Emerge is beginning to expand its communal shelter facility for families and victims of domestic abuse. Emerge plans to expand its 13 communal living spaces into 28 family units. The Pima County Board of Supervisors and Tucson City Council each pledged $1 million towards the proposed expansion. An anonymous donor pledged $1 million on behalf of the Connie Hillman Family Foundation, but this donation comes with stipulations.

The anonymous donor’s pledge is also a community challenge grant.

“For every $2 we raise in the community towards shelter, operations, and other program operations, they will give us $1 toward the shelter renovation,” Emerge CEO Ed Sakwa said.

The challenge grant will last for the next three years through Oct. 31, 2024. All new and increased donations to Emerge will count towards the grant. If donors give Emerge! $100 this holiday season, the match will automatically increase their donation to $150.

“The need in the community is huge and the reality is that Emerge can’t solve this, we need the community’s help in delivering those services to those folks who are experiencing domestic violence,” Sakwa said.

The need for Emerge’s services is increasingly important as the pandemic rages on. In the beginning, victims of domestic abuse were stuck at home with their abusers due to lockdowns. Emerge hotline workers experienced a drop in calls. Emerge staff became concerned that domestic abuse victims were forced into compromising situations without access to services. If an abuser is present, victims are less likely to call for help. However, as economies and businesses reopen, Sakwa reported the hotline is receiving an average of 25 calls a day.

The pandemic has also highlighted issues with Emerge’s shelter. Current shelter amenities include shared bedrooms, shared bathrooms, and shared kitchen spaces. 

“We’ve known for a long time that’s simply just not a good approach to serving trauma survivors,” Sakwa said. “Because you’re coming from these intense situations, most people come into our shelter with what they can shove into a garbage bag on their way out the door, and then trying to start life over, to then have to share space with other families.”

So Emerge’s interest in shelter expansion started several years ago but it was never financially feasible until the pandemic prompted the increased need for space.

In July of 2020, Emerge!’s staff and participants were moved out of the congregate shelter to a non-congregate facility in partnership with a local business to limit the transmission of COVID. Sakwa said this decision squashed outbreaks but was very expensive. Federal COVID relief dollars to Emerge will dry up in February, further pushing Emerge to seek expansion grants.

Pima County has supported Emerge! for multiple years and the arrival of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act made it possible for Pima County Behavioral Health Department Director Paula Perrera to propose granting $1 million to Emerge. The Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve the funding on Sept. 7.

“One of the things COVID really drove home for us is that Emerge’s shelter was a communal setting and it’s hard enough for victims of domestic violence to make the decision to leave but with COVID, that was just one more factor that they’re like, ‘I don’t want to leave here only to get myself or my family member’s ill and end up in the hospital,’” Perrera said.

The shelter expansion will slow the spread of communicable diseases and provide a safe space for healing traumas. 

However, donations to Emerge not only support the shelter expansion but also support their work to end the cycle of domestic violence in the community. Perrera said domestic violence is much more common than people think. Emerge’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month tool kit says one in four women and one in 10 men experience sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Both statistics represent the prevalence of domestic violence in our communities. The reasons for domestic violence have to do with a host of cultural and societal factors.

One of the ways Emerge addresses the deeper causes of domestic violence is by ending the cycle of violence with their shelter.

“People who are experiencing domestic violence who have kids, the kids are also seeing that and it’s almost like a learned behavior,” Perrera said. “If somebody can escape that domestic violence situation, it helps to interrupt, disrupt, or cancel the cycle of domestic violence so it really does pay society forward.”

Mayor Regina Romero shared similar sentiments, saying it is not just one person who is victimized, but the entire family.

Romero, who served for 12 years as a council member before winning the mayor’s office in 2019, has long advocated for Emerge. She said it was easy to convince councilmembers to support the $1 million shelter proposal.

“I think we all have friends or relatives that have gone through domestic violence and violence against their person, so it’s important for me to be able to continue bringing attention to the issue,” Romero said.

Romero said Emerge does more than provide shelter. They address the deeper problems that lead to domestic abuse.

“It’s such a big issue that by being able to donate to it, you’re actually doing something about it and something good to help not just the victims of domestic abuse, but also to educate the community to prevent it,” Romero said. “Donating to emerge will help achieve those goals.”

 

Donations to Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse can be made directly to their website at emergecenter.org/give/.

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