Voices of the Women

The names and photos of all of the women in these stories have been changed to protect their privacy.

I had a family that allowed me to struggle alone. At 16 I dropped out of high school and I found myself involved with a man who did awful things to me.

One day I was able to get free and I ran to the nearest Police car. Once there, they brought me to the precinct and I met with a Safe Horizon representative. They said they had no space for me but that I could wait at a women’s shelter run by the City. They set me to one and I walked in the door to chaos. It was crowded noisy and frightening. I left and ended up at one of the Justice Centers. They referred me to the Dwelling Place. I wasn’t sure. I had no hope.

I decided to go in for intake and met with the Director. She allowed me the time and space to cry and explain what occurred. There was no judgement. No anger. She showed me around and all I saw was a small, very quiet building. I was given a basket of personal items which included soaps, lotions, PJ’s slippers and a bathrobe. I picked each item out myself.

They helped me get into counseling, re-enroll in school and assisted me with an employment search.

I don’t feel alone anymore.

I don’t feel as if I have to do things on my own.

I was given my own computer and I am taking computer classes, yoga and am in a walking club. I am learning about me. I’m no where near ready to move on . There’s no rush here. Just a safe space. I am incredibly grateful.

I arrived at The Dwelling Place at 6am about one month ago right before my 23rd birthday. I had been living with my boyfriend for several years. He emotionally battered me and then the physical abuse began.

Choking me, taking away my belongings, and locking me in the apartment. The first time I called the NYPD, they arrived and refused to listen to me. He told them I was “crazy” so they forced me to go to a psychiatric ward which, in the end, was the very best thing to happen to me.

There I was visited by a social worker from a sexual assault prevention program. She told me about a small residence for women who were about my age that had an available bed. When I heard the word “shelter,” I was terrified. I pictured a huge awful and dangerous place because that is what I heard. I went home. The next day, I called the NYPD again because my boyfriend threw me on the bed and took away all of my belongings. This time, the NYPD knew about The Dwelling Place and they called for me. They said there was an available space so I packed what I could and ran.

I was greeted by many staff people. It was early and I was so scared. They asked what I wanted for breakfast, and they brought me exactly what I asked for. They told me that it was their job to make sure that I felt safe. I hadn’t slept in days, so I went up to my room. I was greeted with a bed near a window and a basket of lotions, soaps, and all sorts of items that made me feel so special. There were three other people in my room- all my age and they embraced me. I took yoga, participated in game night, and laughed with my new friends and most importantly a feeling of safety washed over me

The director appeared with me at my virtual court hearing where I was granted a total stay away order and given time to pack all of my belonging. She accompanied me to pick up my belongings  and I was not scared of him. After all, I had a new home.

I have a full-time job now and I opened a checking and savings account of my own. They pack breakfast and lunch for me so I can save money. I have returned to school full time as well and am continuing my dream of one day entering medical school.

I was born into a very strict religious community. Historically, women’s purpose is to have children and if she has an opinion, it is never listened to. Many strict religious communities shun their members if they choose to leave. I was no different. Married at 17, I was only lucky that my young husband agreed that we were too young. Most women marry by 17 and have children immediately. I knew I was not ready and I was miserable and had been for too many years to count. I started to self harm. I went to stay with my aunt but she made me leave because she felt I was disloyal to my community. I had been working for a while and had some hidden savings which I used to rent a hotel room. Part of me was sure I needed to leave for my mental health. The other part of me knew I would lose my whole family. I was sexually assaulted in the hotel and right after that, I chose to end my own life. Thankfully my efforts were not successful. I was taken to a hospital where I was met by caring therapists, psychiatrists and other people who had experienced what I had. At first some of my family came to visit but once they understood I was not returning the entire family and community shunned me.
My therapist had a long term relationship with The Dwelling Place. She called and the next thing I knew, after a six month hospital stay, I was accepted and was about to begin my life again. There was always a staff member available and I continued intensive therapy at the hospital where I was inpatient. Many women at The Dwelling Place had experienced violence. The were my age and from many different cultures. They accepted me, treated me with dignity and respect and for the first time I believe I have a chance to have a happy and productive life.

It was at the very beginning of Covid, I remember that day. It was cold and the City had an eerily quiet feeling. My husband, who had been an alcoholic for many years, lost is job and the abuse, which had started slowly, exacerbated. Where could I go?

I couldn’t leave so I stayed. About 6 weeks later he hit me hard enough to end up in a hospital. There I met a social worker who referred me to “a small women’s residence.” I had never been homeless. I had never taken care of myself. She came with me for an intake appointment.

The staff and the residents were warm and welcoming. I ate lunch with the staff and some of the women. Everyone had a mask on. Covid was still ravaging the city but the covid precautions were almost more stringent than a hospital. There was one person who disinfected all day.

I slept and ate as if I had never done either. They helped me enroll into a job training program for those who want careers in human services. They gave me a computer and a quiet place.

I have a job and my own savings account.

We had fun barbecues al summer and I helped to plant the garden. I am safe. My life began the day I walked I the door.  They appeared at all of my court hearings and found me a therapist.

There are no judgments here.

I have also made friends. We have a running game of monopoly and I joined the walking club. I hope The Dwelling place is able to grow so they can help more women like me. 

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