The Spirit of Caring

September 11, 2017 Juvy Dichoso

Light at the End of the Tunnel

The Alee Shelter provides help for abused women and children.

It’s considered a safe haven. The Alee Shelter provides emergency and protective place for victims of family and domestic violence and sexual assault. The women’s shelter first opened its doors on March 19, 1981 after Father David Quitugua saw that the needs of abused women and children weren’t being addressed. He felt there was no place they could go to to feel safe and protected. In 1993, the children’s shelter was created.

 

Currently at the helm of the Alee Shelter is Deputy Director Paula M. Perez, who has been with the establishment for the past three years. “It really is about helping them…to give them a good start when they leave us,” she says.

 

Social worker Aurea Tagudin works closely with clients to put together service plans, which are all encompassing: from public benefits, transitioning into housing once they leave the shelter, medical and legal issues to providing transportation for children to school.

 

Perez adds, “We try to keep them at the schools that they are at when they come to the shelter to minimize the disruption in their lives because it’s already such a traumatic event—we don’t want too many changes.”

 

Along with service plans, Tagudin and the client establish a safety plan to ensure they have the tools. “They do safety planning for in the home, in the workplace, in the school environment, even when you do grocery shopping. They have a ‘Who can you call in the event of?’ or ‘What do you do in the event of?’” Tagudin says. When creating a safety plan, they explain to the women that there are other things they need to think about as well. For example, documents like birth certificates and shot records—putting them in a safe place where no one can find them.

 

In fact, Tagudin has had to assist outer islanders when they come in, whose abusers destroyed all their paperwork. “She has to work with them to legitimize them basically, working with the Consulate to get a birth certificate from the islands and that in itself is a daunting task,” Perez says. “You have to find someone here that will vouch for them, sign a notarized document saying, ‘This is who they say they are’ and then they send if off to the island and we wait. It can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 3 months.”

 

There are many challenges Alee Shelter faces daily. “We are seeing a larger number of bigger families. Women with more children, and the needs are growing,” Perez says. She has realized that they needed to take a more holistic approach rather than just providing protective sheltering.

 

Transportation is also a big issue. So much from their existing grant is given per shelter for fuel each month. “If you are going to all these different schools, transporting children to counseling services, doctor’s appointments, and dental appointments…that small amount? We’ll be lucky if that lasts us three weeks,” Perez says.

 

Ultimately, it’s all about managing the funds and doing whatever they can to augment expenses. Perez says when they transition women into housing, they make every attempt to furnish the home for them. “You don’t want to set them up for failure, you want to have as much as you can for them. It lessens their worry and their concerns,” she explains. Once a plea is posted on Facebook, there’s almost an immediate response. “We are always reaching out to the community for assistance. Even though we are funded by a grant, it’s never enough because we are seeing more and more needs.”

 

Alee Shelter has always had really great community support. Perez has taken advantage of social media as a means of soliciting assistance. “I just go on Facebook and put it out there for anyone who wants to help: ‘Hey family and friends, kids are home for the summer. Please help us with our snack drive.’”

 

For the fiscal year that began on October 2016, the women’s shelter alone had 48 women come in, ranging from 18 years of age to as old as 80, in addition to 91 children. “Our fiscal year is not even up, and yet we are already at that high number,” Perez says.

 

They see a lot more women coming in at the beginning of the school year and during the holidays, which are the financially taxing times for a family. In fact, it is around Christmas time that Alee Shelter is typically at capacity. This peaked in 2010 when 75 women came through. Perez says that was unusually high. “Now the women stay with us for a longer period of time only because housing is a major issue.” The women’s shelter, which has a capacity of 10, currently has four women, while the children’s shelter has 10 kids.

 

Although the place has a budget for food per month for each shelter, Perez says it’s not enough. “That’s nowhere close to what we need,” she adds. “If you’re feeding the children’s shelter and the capacity is 12, and you’re feeding each child three meals and two snacks a day, that allotment is gone in the blink of an eye.”

 

Thankfully, the island has always supported Alee.

 

Perez says they keep in contact with all the women once they leave the shelter. “They know they are welcome to come back, if they need a break from whatever it is that’s out there. They come back and they tell us, ‘I thought it was going to be hard in the shelter, but it’s harder out there.’ Out there on their own, the women don’t have the incredible support that they had while at Alee. “They are a good source of support for the women that are in the shelter,” Perez explains.

 

For Perez and the staff, it’s a 24/7 job. The stories that she hears can be overwhelming. “It’s amazing what the women have survived from.” Perez and the social workers talk a lot as a means of de-briefing at the end of the day. “So that you’re not holding it all in…we talk about it, there are days that we really just vent to one another. You have to let it out…you can’t do it with your clients so it’s just us among one another.” Perez adds, “If you don’t and just hold it in, you’ll burn out faster than the normal burnout time because it’s emotionally draining.”

 

If they get a call from a woman needing shelter and Alee is at its capacity, Perez says they call on their community partners. “It’s tough when we’re full and we have to say no, we can’t take them because, you know that the probability that they go back to the abuser is even higher,” Perez says. “Realistically, a lot of them will continue to go back to their abusers because it’s what they know, it’s what they are familiar with.”

 

Alee Shelter was awarded a grant last year from the Office of Violence Against Women. It’s a transitional housing grant that will pay for the rental and utilities for up to 36 months for four women. “The women are coming in with more complex issues, so it’s taking more time to get them to a point where permanent housing is feasible.” We’ve had women stay as long as six months, so this grant is a godsend,” Perez admits.

 

“We strive to provide a nurturing environment where it’s a lot of warmth and care, and where they are reminded that there is good out there and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

 

SEPARATE BOX:

Those suffering abuse or who know of abuse victims may call the Alee Shelter’s 24-hour hotline: 648-4673(HOPE).

 

PULL QUOTE

“We strive to provide a nurturing environment where it’s a lot of warmth and care, and where they are reminded that there is good out there and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

                                                                                                              — Deputy Director Paula M. Perez

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