October 31 – Snow was falling early in the morning of February 17 when Amy Windels made the decision to end an abusive relationship. Instead of waiting for things to get violent – again – she called the police around 3 a.m.
âI was very scared,â she said. “I was a little afraid to make this decision per se, but I did it anyway.” She had thought she would sleep in her car that night – in the cold, with no money.
But as the police were leaving, one of the officers approached his car window and gave him a business card for Esperanza Shelter.
âI never even thought of calling a shelter because I have a dog. And I was embarrassed. I was in denial,â she said. “But for some reason, not just the snow, I called.”
Esperanza Shelter, which opened a small house in 1976 for women fleeing abuse, was one of the country’s first domestic violence shelters. Now celebrating its 45th anniversary in the community, it continues to provide 24/7 emergency services to residents of Santa Fe and neighboring pueblos. The shelter has also expanded its programs, offering life skills training to help victims of domestic violence get back on their feet, trauma counseling for adults and children, social media campaigns and awareness raising activities. to teach teens about dating violence; and a 52-week offender rehabilitation program.
The shelter serves hundreds of people each year, above all providing protection against a dangerous relationship. Windels, 74, was one of them in 2021.
She explained her predicament to the shelter’s intake counselor, who told her the process could take hours. “It was 7 o’clock in the morning, [and] it was still snowing like crazy, “she said. Then she got the call.” I got accepted. “
Esperanza sent her and her blue heel, Archie, to a place where she could stay without anyone else knowing where she was.
âI can’t even tell you the expression of relief – almost like letting out the biggest breath I’ve held in a year when I walked into the room,â she said.
A shelter advocate called her to assess her needs: food, clothing and toiletries. Then more phone calls came in, each with an offer of help in different ways. âIt created a way for me to fix myself and be the person I’m meant to be,â Windels said.
Esperanza helps participants “make protection orders. Sometimes they need to have their driver’s license reinstated, they need to get a passport,” said Marcos Zubia, director of communications and development at the shelter.
âWe have our non-residential program, which is basically the same as a shelter, but these clients can safely live in the community,â he said. âThey always get the support they need. “
Out of immediate danger, Windels began one-on-one online sessions with Esperanza’s counselors. She said: “I was blessed with Maria – she ‘understood’ me.
The shelter offers individual and group counseling sessions for adults, as well as a children’s program called Seeds of Hope. âThey work with the children to help them cope with what they may have experienced or seen,â Zubia said. “For us, it’s about breaking this cycle.”
In fiscal 2020, Esperanza Shelter served 362 clients, including 60 people in emergency shelters and 302 people in non-residential programs. He received almost 1,000 crisis calls during that time.
Those numbers are down about 50% from 2018, the last fiscal year that was unaffected by COVID-19, Zubia said. âThe numbers have been impacted due to the number of people who can safely enter a shelter. [there was] the logistics part of: How can we keep people in a safe shelter without having any kind of [COVID-19] exposure?”
He said Esperanza saw more people seeking shelter than calling the organization’s crisis line after the pandemic started because people were living together in lockdown.
âOften our survivors were with the offenders and it was difficult for them to contact someone,â he said. âPeople would connect with us through Messenger on Facebook. Sometimes when they were shopping they would call us from there.â
âOften our defenders would plan with them a way to escape this situation safely,â Zubia said.
In addition to shelter and counseling services, Esperanza makes presentations on domestic violence to businesses and the community, and she provides advocacy services to participants who need restraining orders, custody documents or those in need. who are filing for divorce.
The organization also does community outreach at events such as Indigenous Peoples Day and Oktoberfest, and it reaches out to social media like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok. âIt’s really aimed at teens, especially so that we educate teens about teen dating violence,â Zubia said.
Esperanza Shelter has 32 full-time employees. The group is supported by federal and state funds, community contributions, bequests, private grants and in-kind donations, with Zubia filling the gaps through fundraising efforts.
Windels left accommodation services during the summer and began painting. âI would normally be writing,â she said. “But I don’t need words when I paint. It’s a way for me to express myself without words.”
Windels said she is grateful for the help she received when she needed it most. âI encourage people to ask for help,â she said. “The world is a loving and forgiving place.”