Jenesse helps domestic violence victims get a fresh start

imageFrom the second you step inside the Fannie Lou Hamer Emergency Shelter, you know it’s so much more than a shelter. Laughter emanates from the kitchen as families eat dinner together. One girl is giggling on the couch, hiding behind her princess backpack. Walls are adorned with pictures and a decoration on the fireplace mantle reads, “home.” In that moment, you realize what this place is. It may be called a shelter, but it really is a home.

The Fannie Lou Hamer Emergency Shelter is named after civil rights activist Fannie Lou, remembered for saying she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” referring to the abuses she suffered as a black woman in the 1960’s. The Jenesse Center believes this is where women come when they are sick and tired of being abused. They come for healing, and they come for rest.

The shelter is just one of the ways that the Jenesse, a domestic violence intervention program in South Los Angeles, tries to provide healing and rest for the 2,500 victims of domestic violence that utilize their services each year.

Jenesse helps provide aid for a problem that affects an estimated 1.3 million people nationally, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. In Los Angeles County alone, records show there were over 40,000 domestic violence related calls for assistance in one year.

image“Every time we answer our hotline we want to make sure before we hang up the phone that we did as much as we could to assist the client,” said Alice Brown, case manager at the Fannie Lou Hamer Emergency Shelter.

That means sometimes referring a client to another shelter closer to that person’s area, put them up in a nearby hotel, or take them into their own emergency shelter.

The majority of Jenesse’s clients are African American or Hispanic clients. However, they are a multi-cultural organization that accepts everyone who is willing to get help—even those that other shelters may turn away.

“A lot of the other shelters—they don’t accept what we call ‘the underserved.’ And what I mean by that is they kind of pick and choose whom they allow in the shelter. If the client is involved in a gang, if she’s a prostitute, if she has some kind of history of substance abuse,” says Brown, it’s ground for rejection. Instead, she points out, Jenesse “is an open door where anyone can come here and start over again, if they’re willing.”

Bilingual case managers are available to assist Hispanic clients who make up 25 percent of Jenesse’s clientele. They also have a legal clinic in Inglewood that helps advocate for citizenship cases. Lawyers at The Inglewood Legal Clinic help undocumented clients get U visas, which provide temporary immigrant benefits to victims of violent crimes, such as domestic violence, who help law enforcement investigate the crime. The clinic also handles cases of child custody and divorce.

Jenesse also helps its clients prepare for their life after being in the shelter. Each woman must come up with a plan for self-sufficiency upon her exit. This plan includes finding a place to live and how to make a living. To that end, Jenesse provides transitional housing for up to two years and vocational education programs.

The transitional housing apartments are furnished. They also have a fully stocked boutique with shelves full of clothes, shoes, and jewelry donated for the women in the shelter, so they can appropriately dress for their court appearances, job interviews and work.

“When they come here, they’re amazed. They don’t want to leave. This is like their comfort zone. Our job here is to transition them to self-sufficiency,” said Brown.

imageEducational programs, which are also available to domestic violence victims who have not lived in the shelter, also move the women of Jenesse towards self-sufficiency. Women can use facilities, such as a computer lab with technology donated by Verizon, to learn essential job skills—such as computer skills and résumé writing. The facilities also hold classes on anger management, parenting classes, household establishment classes and counseling.

While they offer all these services for women who have been abused, Jenesse strongly believes in prevention and try to stop domestic violence problems before they start

Angela Parker, director of training and programs, aims for prevention through visits to high schools where she talks about healthy relationships, trying to raise awareness of the problem and remove the stigma surrounding it. She says many women do not come forward with their cases, because they do not realize it is a problem.

“A lot of why people are in domestic violence situations is because they don’t realize it’s unhealthy. Their mom has been in domestic violence situations, their sister, their friends; so to them, that’s just how life is,” says Parker.

In order to change this erroneous perception, she has also turned to social media platforms to start conversation with local youths. She has held live chats on Facebook to raise awareness. The main lesson: Abuse is not love. Love is respect.