Community Matters When the Goal is Liberation

community of people
Photo by DAIS

The shelter at Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) is a community comprised of shelter residents, staff, and volunteers. This community is fundamental in providing services to domestic-violence victims and their children while staying in an emergency shelter.

Community development and engagement are guided by emotions, and how one feels about the environment influences how a person interacts as a member. It determines whether the person embraces shared community values, how the person contributes, and how the person informs others about the community. Each person in the community plays a part, and it’s important to recognize the strength of all individuals using those strengths to enhance the community and keep it functioning and well. This is how we approach community at the shelter as we gradually develop and implement the Liberation Model.

Liberation is defined as connecting individuals to life-changing, life-sustaining options, and choices that will allow them to live their best lives. It’s about life after shelter and sustainability as well as partnership. We look at partnership when working with clients, as opposed to helping. In a partnership, advocate and client are on a level plane, each bringing their expertise and strengths as the advocate follows the lead of the client to connect the client to resources that will support the client in attaining liberation. If we do want to use the term help, we want to make certain we are helpful helpers who recognize and support the individual strengths of the clients. Our clients are adults and experts of their own lives who happen to be in need of resources that will allow them to liberate themselves.

Photograph provided by DAIS

The Liberation Model focuses on five areas: healing community, housing, financial literacy, Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (AODA), and mental health. The healing community guides the model and focuses on relationships, which include residents and staff at DAIS. It’s supported through the scheduled weekly gathering points we’ve created to foster community and the healing support groups and exercises provided by Sagashus Levingston of Infamous Mothers and Lilada Gee of Black Women Heal. Both bring their years of expertise, experience, and research to the community members.

We provide supportive information that will allow shelter residents to make informed decisions as they plan their next liberating steps, and bimonthly house community meetings to share feedback and gather information. Some of the information gathered tends to the day to day of living in the shelter, while the rest informs the model we are creating. Most importantly, we look at how we interact with residents, having honest and intentional conversations that demonstrate respect, support, and confidence in the client. An added bonus is seeing the connectedness among residents as they support one another through tough situations, celebrate individual successes, and share information. The healing community is important and necessary as it fosters healing and creates a community atmosphere for individuals to thrive and do their best work. Without the development of this community, the other areas of the Liberation Model are tough to address for both residents and staff.

We gather monthly as a staff to process and plan. When considering new initiatives and procedures, we always consider how the newness will influence the liberation of the client. We often refer to the client as Ophelia, as it feels more poignant to consider Ophelia instead of “the client.” The name Ophelia means “help,” and “help when one is most vulnerable.” Through our support and partnership with Ophelia, she will be able to access her strengths and help herself attain liberation. This only happens through the atmosphere of community, and it helps if that community is a healing one.

Monique Minkens is the director of residential services at DAIS. She has spent most of her career facilitating the building community in residential settings.