According to a December 2020 report shared by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), mandates intended to keep people safe from COVID-19 have put some in a dangerous situation. Stay-at-home orders, social distancing, home-schooling, and business closures trap adults and children at risk for family violence in a worst-case scenario. Communities with income challenges experience more pandemic stress and more risk for family violence. Within immigrant communities, the fear of ICE and deportation of family members multiplies that stress even more. The good news, a West Michigan grassroots nonprofit is helping Latina victims of abuse and their children find a way out, an open door, Puertas Abiertas.
“Puertas Abiertas is a community-based program that offers cultural specific services to victims of any type of abuse — domestic abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, trafficking,” says Andrea Inostroza, executive director. “The idea is to give the ladies who have or are suffering domestic abuse, or any type of abuse, a safe place where they can find all of the resources they need to have a better life. The stories of our past two years are amazing.”
Since starting in 2018 as a pilot program serving 13 women, Puertas Abiertas has helped 112 Latinx women and their 254 children escape the experiences of domestic abuse and violence. Their countries of origin include Mexico, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.
Puertas Abiertas provides counseling and legal services, including accompanying women to court for domestic violence, family law, and immigration issues — and can help those from Mexico with connections at the Consulate General of Mexico in Detroit. A 24/7 help-line (shared with clients) provides an opportunity for women to simply talk things out or get help with any type of emergency. Other assistance includes an exercise program, financial assistance, transportation, and translation services. Seven different support groups meet via Zoom, with sessions meeting during morning, afternoon and evening to ensure access for all. A new support group for children and adolescents who have witnessed domestic violence kicks off this week.
“We are working a lot on breaking the circle of violence — the children are learning to break this circle,” Inostroza says. “We focus, too, on the children so we can show them a safe way of loving and caring and respect, that they can have a healthy relationship with their own parents and violence-free relationships [as adults].”
Collaborations with other community organizations have helped Puertas Abiertas to accomplish its mission. For example, Michigan State University Extension provides ongoing classes in healthy eating, anger management, relaxation and pain management and helps clients complete GED requirements. The Literacy Center of West Michigan provides ongoing English language classes. A December 2020 event coordinated with Kent District Library signed up 70 women for their first library cards.
“We have a grant from Spectrum Health that allows us to provide hotel rooms for ladies [needing a safe escape],” Inostroza says. “Others who took part in our pilot program open their houses to new members when they need to leave their homes.”
While other domestic violence programs are doing great work in West Michigan, Inostroza believes that language and cultural divides impair their ability to achieve the best outcomes.
“These ladies don’t feel secure to begin with so it’s important to provide services in the same culture,” Inostroza concludes. “And it’s very important that the communication with clients is in their language. It’s very hard to translate feelings.”
Written by Estelle Slootmaker, Development News Editor
Photos courtesy Puertas Abiertas