Teresa Albizu, the new CEO of SafeSpace, a nonprofit organization serving victims of domestic violence in the tri-county area, hopes to return their Vero Beach facility back to its previous use as an emergency shelter. The facility is currently being used to provide outreach services, such as individually designed personal safety and action plans, support groups, counseling and legal advocacy.
“It was an emergency shelter many years ago, then transitioned into a supportive living program, and it’s currently just an outreach center,” said Albizu, who joined the organization just three months ago.
“We hope to secure the funding to make this an emergency shelter; that way they would not have to go down to Martin County,” said Albizu.
She explained that while some think that getting far away from an abuser is a good thing, many of these battered women have ties with their community – through employment, their children’s schools, and extended family – and need that familiarity.
Albizu said their initial budget indicates a capital improvement budget of just under $100,000 and an operational need of $246,000 per year to run the emergency shelter in Indian River County.
“It is not an overwhelming amount, so if we can galvanize the interest and support of high-level donors, we can pull this off and reopen the shelter,” she said.
The location of the unimposing building is kept secret, said Albizu, because “when women come to us, they need to have a safe space to come to without their perpetrators knowing where that location is.”
On the other hand, she wants to better disseminate information about their services, by word-of-mouth and via other local nonprofit agencies.
“We need to get the word out there as much as we can. No woman, man or child should be subject to this traumatic experience of domestic violence. We want them to reach out to us so that we can help them,” said Albizu.
In turn, she would like to learn more about the ways other agencies’ services might assist their clients.
“Whatever it is that helps our survivors avail themselves of resources to live an independent life, we want to send them to access those services. In times like this, it is this interagency collaboration that really helps us coordinate the best ways to meet the needs in our communities.”
Her chief priority now is fundraising, which she acknowledges is a concern across the board.
“Our funders are experiencing the same challenges that we are experiencing; which is a change in how fundraising is being conducted. COVID has impacted the levels of funding that they have available to disperse to the agencies that they support,” said Albizu. “We’ve had to rethink; how do we do things differently?”
SafeSpace recently launched a virtual online fundraising campaign, Independence from Domestic Violence, which includes statistics and information about their various programs.
“We are trying to engage our community members to support us, because we need to be able to have the funds available to continue to provide a high level of service,” said Albizu.
“We have been experiencing a domestic violence pandemic way before the COVID-19 outbreak. It has gotten worse because of COVID-19, but we have had a pandemic of victim and partner violence for years. We need to be clear about that. Domestic violence has been an issue in this country, unfortunately, for a very long time.”
She explained that abuse always increases at times of extreme hardship, whether from natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and floods, or during times of economic hardship and recessions.
“The pandemic added just one more layer of severity to an already insidious problem that we have,” said Albizu. “In my heart of hearts, I have to say that as long as we allow family violence to remain in the shadows it will do just that. We need to be vigilant, we need to be proactive. Because the risk of family violence is so high right now, and it will likely remain that way for the coming months or even a year.”
She encourages anyone who sees or hears something concerning, to share the SafeSpace hotline.
“We need to really report when we see incidents of domestic violence and we need to help people access the help. A lot of people are apprehensive about seeking support; they’re in a victimization role at this point,” said Albizu. “We want them to know they’re not alone and we are here.”
The Indian River County Hotline number is 772-569-7233.
For more information, visit safespacefl.org or independencefromdomesticviolence.com.