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From Garden to Table

ZaireThis week at DASH, we brought our gardening and eating full circle. On Tuesday, Wellness Coordinator Annabeth Roeschley and a child resident in DASH’s Cornerstone transitional housing spent time in the garden, harvesting a bounty of fresh “cherry” red and “sun-gold” tomatoes, as Zariawell as learning about the natural therapeutic value of herbs. (After picking lavender, the child was overheard sharing it with her mom and “teaching” her how to use AB and kiddosit for stress relief.)

Two days later found Annabeth with Advocate Afusat Olaifa for her cooking class in our Wellness Room kitchen, joined by two avid cooks who live at Cornerstone. Together, big bunches of basil DSCN0101were clipped from the beds outside, becoming the star ingredient in a tasty homemade pesto.  Mixed in with fresh pasta, seasoned chicken, and our homegrown tomatoes, this garden-to-table pesto delight waDSCN0108s shared and loved by all!

Supporter Spotlight: Meghan Walsh

We’re lucky at DASH to have the support of a number of people we work with, including Meghan – author of the blog below, local architect and DASH champion. Here’s what our Executive Director Peg Hacskaylo had to say about Meghan:

“Since the earliest days of DASH, I have considered my relationship with Meghan to be incredibly valuable and rewarding.  I learned so much from her in the beginning, working on the plans and renovation for DASH; and since, working together on various other construction and art projects.  Meghan has been a tireless and passionate supporter of ours. I couldn’t have asked for a better ally in making DASH a reality and helping to achieve our mission.”

Read more about Meghan’s experience with DASH!


photoI started working with Peg on DASH  in 2008 I believe. She called me for help in renovating a 5 bedroom rowhouse – her earliest vision of DASH.  As Peg’s vision evolved and she found support, that small project grew.  I didn’t hear from Peg for a while after our first conversation.  But then one day she called to request my help on a 27-unit building in Southeast Washington.  She, and I , were very excited about it.  I prepared an extensive feasibility study for the abandoned low rise apartment building, but the building was sold out from under DASH and Peg was back to square one… looking for a home for DASH.   Again, a hiatus in my working on DASH, until one day when she called to tell me that now, it was looking very positive and this time the building was 51 units.   I was thrilled for Peg and for the opportunity to work with her on her vision which had grown ten times since our first conversation.

The DASH building was a very challenging renovation project because of its extremely solid construction, and the constraints of budget.  Working with Peg and the team at DASH was a wonderful way for me to gain insight into what DASH does on a daily basis. Understanding issues of security, community, and safety were key as the project developed.  Working on a building as the architect, you spent lots of time together with the team at the building during its construction with weekly and sometimes bi-weekly visits.  At the end of this process there is a bittersweet feeling of happiness at the completion, yet loss because of the relationships that were developed for that moment in time.  I think Peg understands this as do all of the staff at DASH, for everything is in transition at DASH, all of the time.

photo_1By the end of the project, Peg knew me not only as architect, but she also learned that I have a fine arts background and I have done some public art and community projects, both in DC and in Brazil, through Axis Mundi, Inc., a non-profit that I founded in 2004.  When the Redskins alumni joined with KaBoom to build the playground in the front yard, she asked me if I could create a project to involve younger folks who live at DASH.  Peg had visited my home in Bloomingdale and seen the mosaics I made and incorporated into the design of my house. We had spoken about bringing some of this to DASH and this was the chance. Axis Mundi contributed materials to the project and we started to make the mosaic panels for DASH on the day of the Redskins playground build.

The mosaics that I like to make are broken tile mosaics.  I particularly enjoy this process because it feels healing to me. When we see a piece of broken tile by itself, our tendency is to consider it garbage.  When we break a plate or cup, we throw it away usually.  But when I begin to put them into a mosaic, I see that each broken piece has its distinct place amongst the other broken pieces. In life, I have had my failures and experiences that have hurt me, or that I might not like.  I tend see these experiences as unworthy, unimportant or ugly and want to throw them away, just like a broken plate.  And yet in combining these “failures” into a complete mosaic – my whole life – it is something spectacularly beautiful and incredibly unique… there will never be another exactly the same.  The act of laying each piece into place may seem monotonous or tedious to some.  But I find it soothing, and healing.  And I am always amazed at the end result.  While I plan out the overall image – a flower, a spiral, a beach scene, or just a field of a particular color, there is a joyful spontaneity and randomness to the placement of each individual piece.  It requires patience, some discipline, and time, but it is an enjoyable process with an always surprisingly beautiful end result. It is also a fun thing to do socially.  The day we made them at DASH I had some great conversations with all those volunteering.  And since then, I have spent time with my friends completing them and we too have had the opportunity to work on something constructive, while have long talks about life, joking and laughing together through the messy process of creating something beautiful.

Today, when I visited DASH to drop of the mosaic panels, I had a few flashbacks to the many stages of the building, from the run down apartment building it was prior to DASH, to the challenges that came up through the middle of construction process to the moment of completion, and move-in.  I don’t have a day-to-day role at DASH anymore, and it makes me happy to be asked for an ID when I come through the door anonymously.  It is a feeling that is hard to describe.  Kind of like being a broken piece of tile that found its spot in a beautiful mosaic flower. Thank you DASH for letting me be a part of you too!

Appreciation for the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market!

gardenEach and every Sunday during the growing season, Cornerstone residents take part in a bounty of fresh vegetables from our friends at the Bloomingdale Farmer’s Market. Everything from spring radishes, to summer squash, to fall greens – all are used in cooking classes at Cornerstone, and most photo-5often, cooked directly in our residents’ apartment kitchens, adding to the veggies harvested from our own garden. We are so grateful for our local farmers who grow and donate their vegetables, and especially to our wonderful neighbor Ted McGinn, who faithfully brings the produce to and from DASH every week.

photo-4Last week in Art Group (https://dashdc.wpengine.com/2013/07/30/art-healing-and-community/) Cornerstone kids created this banner to show our appreciation for this wonderful, and tasty, partnership. Thanks, Bloomingdale Farmers!

Spotlight on Allies in Change Awardees: MOI and Jennifer Lee

DASH’s longtime corporate community partner, MOI, is this year’s recipient of the Keystone award.  MOI not only works with DASH to build awareness and support for the cause of safe housing and safe lives through events, they also donate their time volunteering and organizing much-needed drives for DASH’s women and children.  MOI has also donated endless amounts office furniture for DASH staff and its staff has helped design our office spaces.  Jennifer, Senior Consultant for Commercial Interior Solutions, explains more about this wonderful partnership below, and remember to buy tickets to the luncheon here:

My name is Jennifer Lee, I’m a Senior Consultant at MOI. MOI is a Commercial Furniture Dealership with 30 years of experience providing clients with comprehensive furniture solutions.

I work and play in DC!  I first heard about DASH back in 2009 when we hosted an art show that raised funds and awareness for DASH. It also gave members of the industry an opportunity to showcase our artistic talents.

When DASH was renovating the Cornerstone building MOI donated furniture as well as our services for design, labor, and project management for their staff offices.

DASH knows firsthand how large the need is locally for safe housing and support services. They bring vital awareness needed to educate others on the cause and effect relationship between domestic violence and the prevention of homelessness.

Their low barrier policy and the passion that their team has for the mission along with their unbridled resolve to give their residents the tools/skills needed to rebuild their lives with the respect and kindness they deserve.  DASH addresses the need for services and local housing for victims and assists with getting them into safe, supportive environments, where they can find success at their own speed. DASH is nationally recognized for their best practice model organization.

I feel passionate that women and children should be protected from violence and sexual abuse. Having a sense of security and safety in your home…this is the most basic need most of us take for granted. All women should have an alternative housing solution to living in an unsafe environment or on the streets.

“We” in the global sense, are ALL affected by domestic violence, sexual abuse, and homelessness.

Home. Means. Safety.

(Cross-posted with National Alliance to End Homelessness Blog)

By Peg Hacskaylo, Executive Director, District Alliance for Safe Housing

Trudy[1] had been living in an apartment with her boyfriend and their son for about 2 years when the abuse from her boyfriend became more frequent and more intense. She wanted to move out but couldn’t afford to live on her income from her job as a cashier at a local retail store. One night, when her boyfriend had another violent outburst, Trudy called the police. When they arrived, an advocate was with them to help her determine what services she needed. She said she couldn’t stay in their home because, if her boyfriend went to jail, she couldn’t afford the rent and, if her boyfriend was released, she wouldn’t feel safe there. So the advocate placed her and her son in a hotel paid for by compensation available to crime victims. She could stay at the hotel for up to 30 days while she tried to figure out what she would do.

By her second week in the hotel, Trudy had called every resource given to her to find another place to live, to no avail. She finally went to the city’s intake center for homeless families but they told her that she wasn’t considered homeless because she wasn’t living in a shelter or on the streets. By the end of the month, Trudy went back to live with her boyfriend, who had been released from jail, because she had run out of time and had nowhere else to go.

But when her boyfriend’s abuse continued, Trudy again began searching for another place to live. She reached out to the local battered women’s shelters and was eventually able to get space for herself and her son for up to 90 days. When her time there was about to run out, she again went to the central intake center, only to be told that she was still ineligible for housing because the shelter she was living in wasn’t part of the city’s homeless housing system. Trudy left the shelter to live in a friend’s basement until she could figure out her next step.

Stories like Trudy’s are all too common in the District of Columbia and throughout the U.S. Women are one of the fastest growing groups of homeless people in the country (Goodman, Fels, & Glen, 2011), and domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among single women and women with children (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2005). In one large-scale study, 92 percent of homeless mothers reported experiencing sexual or physical abuse in their lifetimes (Browne & Bassuk, 1997). The limited availability of safe and affordable housing options frequently results in women falling into homelessness after exiting abusive situations (National Institute of Justice, 2008), and homelessness dramatically increases their risk of suffering episodes of sexual assault and other kinds of abuse (Goodman, Fels, & Glen, 2011).

When we founded the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) in 2006, our initial plan was to create a safe emergency-to-transitional housing facility for survivors of domestic violence. At the time, the demand for housing for victims displaced from their homes was overwhelming and the resources to meet the need were scarce. The D.C. police annually received over 30,000 calls for domestic violence incidents and approximately 1,200 families were being placed in hotels for lack of available emergency shelter beds. There were then a total of 48 beds for women and children escaping abuse and fewer than 200 units of transitional and long-term housing for families exiting shelter.

We soon realized, therefore, that our primary objective would help only a fraction of those who needed it. We spoke to women on a daily basis who told us that they needed help not just accessing safe housing programs, but permanent safe housing. We heard from advocates that survivors needed help keeping their permanent subsidized housing or getting into affordable, rental housing. We needed a broader strategy to solve this problem.

Our strategy, a combined effort on three fronts to achieve greater housing accessibility for survivors from shelters to permanent housing, involves:

  • Creating additional safe housing
  • Facilitating access to existing housing programs
  • Preventing victims’ fall into homelessness

Under this strategy we worked with homeless and housing providers to ensure their housing was accessible and safe for victims. We worked with landlords to ensure they didn’t inadvertently discriminate against victims in rental housing. And we worked with domestic violence service providers to help them advocate for victims in the District’s complex housing system. As our strategy developed, so did our programs, and soon we had a continuum of housing support for survivors, wherever they turn for help.

Notably, our strategy has evolved into something more than just creating more, and more responsive, housing for women and families. It’s become about changing the way we see the problem, which lies directly at the intersection of domestic violence and homeless/housing services. Because at that nexus there is a disconnect that creates a sort of double-jeopardy for victims – putting them further at-risk of homelessness and abuse. We learned that domestic violence service providers and homeless service providers function in numerous parallel ways – in the same jurisdiction, with many of the same sources of funding, and almost always serving the same clients – but generally remain siloed and apart.

Domestic violence service providers traditionally focus on crisis intervention with victims, with an emphasis on protecting them from the threat of violence. Homeless and housing providers traditionally have focused on protecting their programs from the potential for transience, in the belief that survivors of domestic violence won’t last in their programs because they will leave to reconcile with their abusers, and the threat of violence that survivors present, thereby screening survivors out of their programs. While these concerns may be legitimate, they may also serve to keep women in perpetually unstable situations or force them to return to abusive homes for lack of other safe housing options.

Fortunately, with the advent of Rapid Re-Housing and Trauma-Informed service models, both domestic violence and housing/homeless service providers have excellent tools to begin addressing this gap. At DASH, we help families move into permanent housing units straight from crisis and bypass the range of emergency, transitional, and permanent housing programs, allowing them to “transition in place” and facilitating moves for families at-risk of imminent violence to other units within the city.  We also work with survivors to help them cope with the trauma they’ve experienced and regain a sense of self-determination. And all of this is accompanied by constant Wellness and Safety planning to help survivors effectively ensure their own safety from abuse.

The elimination of homelessness is the express goal of advocates, funders, and governments across the country and has been for a long time now. And while a good deal of progress has been made in getting individuals and families housed, preventing their fall into homelessness, and increasing the availability of options across the housing spectrum, victims of domestic and sexual violence have, until now, seemed to defy conventional wisdom. With these new models of service, this doesn’t need to be the case – not for Trudy or anyone else.

[1] Not her real name, based on a true story.

DASH and the National Alliance to End Homelessness

This week, DASH staff presented three workshops at the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference, exposing homeless advocates from across the country to DASH’s unique approach to safe housing for survivors. The conference, which featured over seventy workshops for the thousands of attendees, provided an excellent opportunity for DASH staff to gain valuable insight from many of the nation’s leading experts on homelessness, as well as to impart their own wisdom. Moreover, due to DASH’s status as a nationally-recognized best practice model organization, they were able to emphasize the intersection of domestic violence and homelessness to conference attendees, using their expertise to educate many homeless advocates with little knowledge on how to work with domestic violence survivors.

DASH Community Housing Director Shakeita Boyd

Prior to the conference’s official start on Tuesday, DASH’s Community Housing Program Director Shakeita Boyd presented a section on safety planning in the “Improving Safety and Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence” workshop.   DASH offered guidance to housing providers on how to support survivors in their program to plan for safety.  As survivors move through the homeless system, it is imperative that homeless organizations are aware of the dynamics of domestic violence and are able to address emotional and physical safety concerns and assist survivors using a trauma informed lens. This pre-conference session offered homeless service providers an innovative approach to effectively address the needs of survivors in their housing programs. Other highlights of this session included; best practices for case management and developing successful organizational partnerships to benefit survivors.

DASH Housing Resource and Training Manager LaToya Young

Later in the week, Shakeita also presented “Selling Your Program: Landlord Engagement and Rental Assistance Strategies.” This session focused on the importance of developing strong landlord relationships in order to foster rapid rehousing. Shakeita discussed successful elements of DASH’s Empowerment Program, which is a national model for providing scattered site, apartment-based long-term housing for survivors.  Attendees learned about developing successful marketing tools such as short-term rental subsidies to encourage landlord cooperation and engagement.

DASH Housing Resource and Training Manager LaToya Young

Finally, on Wednesday, Housing Resource and Training Manager LaToya Young presented “Public Housing Authorities: Partnering to End Homelessness,” a discussion on the relationship between community housing assistance programs and public housing authorities (PHAs). The session emphasized strategies that many PHAs and community programs have used to develop partnerships to assist homeless families.  LaToya discussed how she partners with the DC Public Housing Authority (DCHA) to address the unique housing barriers survivors face, including facilitating safety transfers  and training DCHA staff on housing protections afforded to survivors.

Even when domestic violence was not the primary focus of the workshops they presented in, Shakeita and LaToya were able to educate attendees on various ways housing, homelessness and domestic violence intersect. DASH is grateful for this opportunity to share our message to so many homeless advocates and to create new partnerships to ensure that safe housing is a reality for everyone.

Spotlight on Allies in Change Awardees: Jamila Larson

On March 28th, DASH will hold its Allies in Change luncheon, honoring individuals who have supported and amplified the organization’s work to provide relief to survivors of domestic and sexual violence,through emergency and long-term safe housing, and innovative homelessness prevention services. We are doing a series of interviews of our awardees beforehand to share a bit more about them. This blog focuses on Jamila Larson, who has brought her work with the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project to DASH’s community. Remember to buy tickets to the luncheon here!

We are pleased to introduce Jamila Larson. Ms. Larson came to D.C. in 1996 from Wisconsin and has been running the Playtime Project as a volunteer since its founding in 2003. She assumed the role as first fulltime Executive Director in September 2009. Her experience as a licensed clinical social worker running a mental health and after school program and as a policy researcher at the Children’s Defense Fund helped inform her leadership of the Playtime Project. “We are fortunate to have the most amazing volunteers and dedicated supporters s who recognize the unlimited potential in the children and families we serve and make a commitment to protecting a child’s right to experience joy.”

Below is the interview we conducted with Ms. Larson. We are grateful to have her as a partner and friend, and are looking forward to honoring her and others March 28th!

Jamila Larson and Lars from Homeless Children's Playtime Project

“My friend from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless told me about this great group of women starting DASH and recommended we consider bringing our Playtime Project model to their new housing program. I jumped at the chance because we know many of the children we serve in family shelters have experienced domestic violence, but to be able to partner with an agency that specializes in this population is something we’d really like to do.

I grew up in rural Wisconsin but moved to DC in 1996 right out of college to work for the Children’s Defense Fund on national policy issues effecting children and families. Discovering how many local needs there are in this city made me passionate to stay and learn about the needs of children and families locally and serve here.

I think there should be a domestic violence fatality review team, similar to child fatality review teams, that analyzes what was done and what was not done by the authorities and service providers in order to fine tune interventions in high risk cases. More police escorts and relocation assistance is needed especially around the time protection orders are filed to ensure families survive dangerous transition times. Education for teen girls and boys in middle school and high school is also critical to help break the cycle as young people are experiencing their first relationships.

We educate our volunteers about the likelihood that many of the families we serve in non-domestic violence shelters have experienced domestic violence, and we work to create a safe environment for all the children we serve. It’s important to give children an environment that gives them therapeutic tools to work through their feelings and experiences (like doll houses, play doh, puppets and art supplies). We want to equip all of the children we serve with coping skills against violence and to make sure they feel safe to relax and express themselves.

Jamila and her newborn

I am a new parent to a darling 5-month-old boy, and it makes me think a lot about how to raise a wonderful man in this world. I read something recently about how respecting children when they tell us “no” helps teach them to respect others who tell them no. This makes a lot of sense to me, to help relatively powerless children find their voice. Check back with me in a year…I will put this consciousness to the test when he starts talking back!”

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