Holiday Safety For Survivors of Domestic Violence With Disabilities
Holidays can traditionally be a time of family gatherings and celebrations. For individuals and families at Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House Emergency Shelter who have left an abusive situation, maintaining safety during the holiday season is crucial.
As an agency, Barrier Free Living provides counseling, case management, shelter and housing to people with disabilities, including survivors of domestic violence and homeless individuals. Freedom House is our emergency domestic violence shelter for individuals and families who are seeking temporary safety.
Following are the Freedom House team’s tips to keep the holiday season safe and joyful.
Don’t Avoid Planning for the Holiday’s
It may seem easier to ignore a holiday because the traditional activities and visits are not possible. This is an approach that can lead to sadness and isolation. Be proactive and create new traditions. Freedom House offers a variety of activities during the holiday season including a group holiday dinner, tree decorating day with cookies and milk, and a gift wrapping day. Residents are encouraged to talk about their feelings in individual sessions and at domestic violence support groups.
Talk to Children
Ultimately, it is important for the children at shelter to recognize that the violence occurred and that the family is now dedicated to remaining safe. For children it is important that they understand why they have to make changes in their life. It is equally important that they have the opportunity to celebrate the joys of the holiday and are allowed to be the children that they are. Often parents at Freedom House say that their child is constantly asking where the absent (abusive) parent is and when he/she is coming home. Some parents tell their children that the abusive parent is at work or with friends and will be home later. The problem is that later comes and the child asks again. Once a parent explains the situation as to why the family is in shelter the child understands and is able to start expressing their feelings around missing the absent parent and understanding why they can’t see him/her for the moment.
Meet Close Family and Friends in New Locations
Since it is unsafe to visit certain family and friends, meet in a safe location. For example, if a resident is very close with their mother who lives in Brooklyn, make arrangements to meet in a new location. This could be meeting for dinner or going to the park.
It is possible to maintain some holiday traditions, though others may be difficult to maintain. Visiting grandma on Thanksgiving may be unsafe. Visit a family or friend’s home in a safe neighborhood. If there are no safe alternatives, begin to establish “a family of choice.” We can’t choose our biological families, but we can choose to celebrate family events with others whose biological families are not available, dangerous or destructive.
Utilize Your Community
Community and Shelter sponsored events like a Thanksgiving dinner help to create community and fill a void in the season. This year Hearts of Gold (whose mission is to foster sustainable change in levels of self-sufficiency for homeless mothers and their children) is sponsoring Freedom House’s Thanksgiving and December Holiday parties. The Freedom House team also encourages residents to organize their own potluck events on the actual day of Thanksgiving, Christmas or other significant holidays. When residents have a sense that they are contributing to the celebration themselves, it can be empowering.
Holiday Parades and Events
There are certain parades and events in New York City that draw people from all boroughs and out of state. Our team asks residents to be extra cautious at large gatherings as it is impossible to know who could be attending. If a resident regularly goes to a parade, and is expected to be at that event, the team suggests that the resident does not attend. Instead, watch the parade on TV.
Holidays can be difficult – find someone to talk to for assistance:
Reach out for extra support from counselors, advocates, and, when they are not available, help lines.
Freedom House 212-400-6470
National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-SAFE
Life Net – 1-800- LIFENET
Safe Horizon – 1-800-621-HOPE
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Reprinted from the Barrier Free Living Breaking Barriers In Domestic Violence Newsletter