After surviving years of domestic abuse, you can't take it anymore. You gain the courage and resolve and you leave. As terrifying as it can be to leave an abusive partner, you're suddenly thrust into a world from which you may have been isolated. Perhaps you don't have a job. You may not even have the right amount of educational or work experience. You've been kept from friends and family all these years. Where do you go?
You might make your way to the heart of Phoenix, to the Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) campus. You walk into the Brian Garcia Welcome Center where you-and hundreds of others-get yourself a bed for the night. You've secured shelter for now, but what should you do next?
The following day, you are shown around the campus and you meet Kami Edwards, a Program Services Evaluator for the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES). Kami has assisted domestic violence survivors and homeless individuals for nearly a decade, connecting them with nutrition and cash assistance and medical eligibility. Rotating between CASS, Justa Center and the domestic violence shelter of the UMOM New Day Center, Edwards brings DES services to some of the most vulnerable people in need of critical services.
Providing services on location to individuals who have survived potentially years of abuse brings with it a unique set of challenges. Common among them is the question of confidentiality. On one occasion, Edwards was interrogated by "Jane Smith," who, after an hour of determining whether everything would be confidential and kept from her former abuser, she finally provided her real name and applied for assistance.
Confidentiality is of the utmost importance for cases involving domestic abuse survivors. The Arizona Address Confidentiality Program is an option for clients that establishes a legal substitute address to which the client's mail will be sent and subsequently forwarded to their confidential address. If confidentiality is not maintained, the offender could appear at the shelter and endanger both the survivors and caseworkers trying to assist.
It can also be challenging to assist someone who has gone through traumatic events. But Edwards says, when working with domestic violence survivors, it's best to just tell them what you can do, what you can't do, and why.
"If people want help, they're pretty easy to talk to," she said.
Addressing each person with honesty, understanding and respect goes a long way. Edwards understands that anyone, regardless of background or socioeconomic status could end up in the CASS courtyard.
"I talk to them how I talk to you," she said. "I've been thanked over a thousand times for treating them like human beings."
For more information on the DES Domestic Violence Program and nutrition, cash and medical assistance, please visit our website at des.az.gov.
By Brett Bezio