“This is the first place that is willing to help me. In other programs I have felt invisible.” That quote comes from a survivor of domestic violence, who sought support from La Casa de las Madres. The San Francisco-based nonprofit is dedicated to helping women in difficult situations. Instead of telling women what to do, La Casa gives them the resources they need to make a change, trusting women to be experts in their own lives.
Four out of ten women in California experience domestic violence in their lifetime. “This includes sometimes harder to recognize forms of abuse like emotional abuse, financial abuse, and using children or immigration status,” Kara Duggan, Director of Community Partnerships and Philanthropy for the organization told me. La Casa responds to calls for help from domestic violence victims, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition to its crisis support hotlines, they run an emergency shelter, provide legal services, and organize a series of educational and advocacy programs.
How La Casa Helps Women Every Day
How does this work in practice? Take the story of Alice*. As a victim of domestic violence, she did not know that there were organizations like La Casa. One day her partner assaulted her in front of her family, and the police were called. The SFPD connected her with La Casa. That same day, Alice and her two children entered the shelter and began individual and family counseling. Alice was able to obtain a full time job and childcare, and eventually housing. “As Alice exits shelter, she will be connected with services at our drop in center to continue counseling and case management services,” Duggan explained.
In addition to helping women like Alice, the organization puts on La Casa Living Room events, bringing together members of the greater community to learn about their work. In May, The Assembly clubhouse turned into La Casa Living Room. La Casa’s co-founder Sonia Melara and executive director, Kathy Black, led a conversation about how to make San Francisco a safe city. The hard truth is that a significant number of women in our community experience domestic violence. That may include the women you see riding the bus or sweating it out at a group fitness class at The Assembly. In fact, you may know this too well, having encountered domestic violence yourself.
How You Can Get Involved
If you want to get involved in La Casa’s work, Duggan says there are various ways you can help. Read on for our conversation:
Q: How can we help people in our community who are experiencing domestic violence?
Duggan: “The most important thing that all of us have is our voice. A voice to speak out against domestic violence, and to hold abusers accountable. It is also important to support organizations like La Casa, who are serving some of the lowest-resourced individuals in our community. Monetary support, as well as volunteerism and time, are important to ensuring that there is always a place for victims and survivors to find safety, compassion, and refuge.”
Q: On an individual level, how can we help loved ones who may experience domestic violence?
Duggan: “First, believe them. Let them know that you will support them no matter what they decide to do. At La Casa we believe it is our job as allies to support people no matter where they are on their path to safety and healing. Sometimes leaving an unsafe or abusive home is the safest option, and other times, it is not.
We never tell a survivor what to do, because they are the experts in their own life. As supporting people, we can provide options and support. La Casa practices a survivor-centered, empowerment-focused model of care. We believe that survivors are strong and amazing individuals, and we are there to help them open doors to brighter, safer, violence-free futures.
The main thing to avoid would be telling someone what they should do. Telling someone to leave or stand up to their partner can often have dangerous and unforeseen consequences. Also, it is important that you remember as a helping person to prioritize your own safety and remember that you don’t have to know everything. You just need to know enough to refer them to a supportive organization, like La Casa.”
Q: How does San Francisco’s high cost of living add challenges for women who experience domestic violence in our community?
Duggan: “A victim who wants to leave might face significant barriers to leaving. It can be challenging to afford housing as a single person, and this can be even more challenging if you have children you need to support as well.
Staying in an unsafe relationship longer than you planned due to the high cost of living is definitely a challenge our clients face. That is why places like La Casa are so important. They send a message to survivors that they do not have to choose between homelessness and abuse. There is a third way.”
- Volunteer Opportunities: La Casa has various volunteer opportunities for groups and individuals.
- Donate Goods: Check out La Casa’s wish list of goods, which includes feminine hygiene products, oral care, diapers, and deodorant.
- Give Money: Find out more about how you can back La Casa with a financial gift.
La Casa de Las Madres Hotlines:
- Adult 24/7 Hotline: 1.877.503.1850
- Teens 24/7 Hotline: 1.877.923.0700
- Text Line: 1.415.200.3575
* Names and identifying details have been changed