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Our Turn: Life in the Emergency Shelter

If we, in our own homes, are feeling frayed and stressed from nine months of this pandemic, we are not alone. And, we have also gained a sense of what it might be like for survivors of domestic and sexual violence who seek TPN’s services and are shelter guests at any time, pandemic or not.

Heading into the last quarter of this COVID Year, which began last March, we are feeling more than a little ragged. We’ve been fearful at times, cut off from our families and friends, in need of hugs, not able to celebrate holidays the way we always have. We’ve had to adapt to masks and social distancing and other new rules. We’ve lost jobs or are having to risk our own health to keep our jobs, trying to explain to the kids why they can’t play with their friends, missing our own friends or feeling less privacy because everyone is home—all day, every day.

And long before the pandemic and long after we simply refer to 2020 as “that year,” this is what it also feels like as a guest in the Turning Points Network Emergency Shelter.

Our shelter serves all of Sullivan County and offers safety and supports for women and children (and alternative safe housing for men) who are leaving situations of domestic or sexual violence, stalking or human trafficking. It is the first step toward a new life, independent of abuse; a time to heal, to develop new skills, learn to manage one’s own finances and gain self-confidence.

Shelter guests come to us feeling afraid, anxious and very insecure about what’s next. And while they are safe in our shelter from the harm they have left behind, they are isolated from friends and family and their children cannot invite other children to play. Even though each individual or family has their own bedroom, they share communal living, dining and kitchen space, meaning new guidelines to follow and less privacy.

TPN staff works daily with each individual or family to make the adjustment to living in the shelter easier. Together, staff and shelter guests set personal goals, supported by advocacy for legal proceedings and classes in financial empowerment. Staff helps with arrangements for access to school or training, offers peer support and transitional and sustainable housing options. But living in a shelter with up to five other families is never easy, and each guest has the challenges they bring as well as those they find as part of the group. Sometimes they can help one another. Each individual or family is on their own passage at their own pace to move forward from the life they have left behind.

And just as our shelter guests are eager to move forward, all of us who are sheltering in our own homes from COVID 19, are just as anxious to leave this chapter as soon as we can safely do so and move back into an interactive, connected and engaged community.

OUR TURN is a public service series by Turning Points Network (TPN) serving all of Sullivan County with offices in Claremont and Newport. We provide wraparound supports for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stalking and human trafficking and we present violence-prevention education programs in our schools. For more than 40 years, TPN has helped people of all ages move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. For information contact 1.800.639.3130 or www.turninqpointsnetwork.org or find us on Facebook.

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