Monday, October 09, 2006

A Far Cry From The Princess And The Pea

This weekend I spent the night in a Domestic Violence ("DV") shelter in order to keep one of my clients company. It's one of the "good" shelters; 24-hr security, a location on a calm, quite, tree-lined street, and individual rooms for clients. I slept on the bed where my client's sister usually sleeps. Her sister has been in the hospital since last Saturday. She's getting better, and will probably come "home" in a few days. I'm grateful she has a temporary home to come back to, but I wish she were coming back to a better place.

I discovered this weekend that the bed that she will be coming back to, like all beds in the shelter, is a mattress covered in vinyl that feels like it's made of lumpy cement. Lying on my back, trying to go to sleep in it, I squirmed around trying to figure out whether the pressure I could feel pressing into my back were springs or clumps of mattress stuffing. I couldn't figure it out. I woke up repeatedly during the night because every time I moved, or my client in the next bed shifted position, it sounded like one of us were slipping off of a plastic raft; you know, the kind that float in swimming pools. I had one sheet between the vinyl and my body, and no top sheet between my body and an itchy woolen blanket. By the morning, the sheet - slippery against the vinyl - was a crumpled mass at the bottom of the bed and I was lying on plastic.

Bad as the bed was, the pillow was worse. All of the adjectives that usually are used to describe pillows - fluffy, soft, cushiony - don't apply. It was obviously very old, the cotton stuffing was clumped together in uncomfortable knots, and when I rested my head upon it, the pillow squeezed down into nothing. It was basically like resting my head on a small pile of rags.

I woke up with my back and neck achey and sore, and I'm still stiff today. After that one night of attempted sleep, I finally understand why my clients have been having so much difficulty sleeping, and why they often feel achey in their bodies. Here, I've been telling them how important it is to get a good night's sleep, encouraging them to go to sleep early, and they've been tossing and turning on plastic-covered concrete slabs. I had no idea, and they - not having experienced anything better, and not wanting to complain - didn't say anything. I feel so bad for them. The good news for them is that the problem will (hopefully) be fixed. The team of individuals with whom I work on this case - members of the non-profit organization who initially sought my firm's pro bono assistance - have had numerous discussions in the last two days. Actual pillows and egg-crate mattresses are in the works.

When I told my client that piece of good news, she asked, "Will everyone in the shelter be getting better beds, or only me and my sister?" She's so thoughtful and sweet, despite everything that she's had to endure. I had to tell her that for now, we were looking to get better bedding for only her and her sister. Funding for two clients is one matter; funding to upgrade the bedding in an entire shelter is a completely different matter.

I've worked with DV shelters before and know that they're not rolling in money. However, as long as there was a bed available for my client and counseling services, I felt like the immediate needs of my client had been met. At least they were not getting beat up. At least they were safe. I had never given much thought to the quality of the beds. I suppose in part that's because until Saturday, I hadn't realized that beds could be of such poor quality. It's also because when you're dealing with a crisis situation, you focus on the crisis. Comfort gets lost in safety planning and security concerns.

But comfort shouldn't get lost, because it's an important part of healing, of feeling safe, of a sense of well-being. Particularly for those clients who have to stay in shelters for more than a few days. After escaping an abusive situation, people need to heal. They need their basic necessities taken care of, and one of those necessities is sleep. Good sleep is impossible to get on a lumpy piles of concrete. That shouldn't be the best that women and children can expect upon escaping their abusive situations.

There are many excellent DV shelters out there, and perhaps some of them have better quality beds than the ones at the shelter I spent the night at. I don't know, because I haven't been there. But, I suspect that most of the DV shelters all over the country need funds. If not for comfortable and comforting beds, than for other basic necessities for their clients. I'm not sure why I have never donated to a DV shelter before, but I think I'm going to start.

If you are in need of a DV shelter, looking for information about domestic violence, or interested in making a donation, both of these organizations in New York, Safe Horizon and Sanctuary For Families, provide excellent resources and services. Check 'em out.


wordnerd said...

I completely agree that comfort should not be overlooked....and that it's so important for healing.

Every Christmas, a group of us get together, pool money, time and resources and adopt a DV shelter. We buy gifts for the kids, put together baskets for the women (with all sorts of stuff to pamper them) and do a cookie-swap and create large trays of sweets for every woman at the shelter (usually, there are about 12 or so at any given time in this small shelter). We've often wondered whether this was all ridiculous..I mean, some of these women...they don't even have a 2nd pair of shoes to change into...because they left everything behind when they ran.

You wonder about these things....

Until last January..when we (as a group) received a bunch of handwritten letters, from a bunch of the women, expressing gratitude for these gifts that made them feel normal, comfortable and even festive. Just because you're in a shelter, doesn't mean that you don't want to eat chocolate at Christmas....I think it's ALL THE MORE reason to eat chocolate at Christmas!

Buttercup said...

Wordnerd, That is SO wonderful!! What a great thing to do. How did you go about arranging that? There's no question in my mind that your efforts would be greatly appreciated by the residents of the shelter. You're awesome!

wordnerd said...

well, I can't take full credit because I just joined a group that was already doing it.......When I moved to this city (about 5 years ago) I kinda "joined" a group of friends....mostly lawyering kinda folks..who are really an incredible group of people...very generous...very kind.

What happens is that one of us calls in November and gets numbers....(then confirms again near Christmas) and we put out the numbers via email to the group (i.e. a 5-year old boy, 2X 3-year old girls, 10 women, etc) and then we forward the info to the group and people basically volunteer for whatever they want or think they can afford to buy...two of us usually do the baskets for the women (usually using contributed cash and donated reward points for the pharmacy for beauty products, etc...) and the night before we drop off the gifts and baskets....a group of us all get together and swap cookies and make up the required number of platters of home-baking (we get them at the dollar store, it's really cheap to do)....everyone usually brings at least 4 dozen cookies/sweets and we just divy them up on trays and deliver them while they are fresh. There are usually left-overs...that we eat...while drinking wine..:*)

The whole process is usually pretty easy....lots of email communication between about 12 or so people....but it usually comes together pretty well...we just look out for sales and try to find cost-efficient ways to get lots of stuf for the best price. Transferable Reward points are means that even people who don't have much money can participate..:*)

Buttercup said...

Wornerd, Thanks for the info. It really sounds wonderful. Perhaps I can arrange something similar or get hooked up with a group doing something similar? I'll check it out and keep you posted.

Tracy said...

That's great that your firm is going to provide better bedding for your clients.

You are a good advocate for them.

Buttercup said...


To clarify, my firm is not going to provide better bedding. I wish that we could do that, but unfortunately our pro bono work is limited to preparing legal documents and representing clients in their cases.

On this case, I've been working with a non-profit organization (not affiliated with the firm), who initially brought our clients to the firm and requested our pro bono assistance. That organization is going to provide better bedding for them - and actually all of the residents of the shelter - now that they are aware of the problem.

Tracy said...

That is awesome!

InterstellarLass said...

I don't know how I missed this post, but I think it's a wonderful thing that you spent the night with your client. I can't imagine too many lawyers doing that. I'm so proud of you for speaking up and making something better for these women.

Buttercup said...

Lass - My client is wonderful. I was happy to spend the night at the shelter. I just wish she and her sister had a lot more in their life right now. Hopefully, things will continue to change for the better for them.