By Jennifer Morrison, Shelter Coordinator
It’s Friday afternoon and the call has come in from a woman who was beaten by her partner two nights ago. The police came to the home and arrested her partner, but she has just learned he is being released later this afternoon. She is afraid for her,
her children’s safety, and their lives. She desperately needs to find a safe place where he cannot find them.
She calls one of the hotline numbers provided by the police and learns the shelter is full and cannot help her. She calls the second number and again she learns the shelter is full. With rising panic and desperation she calls a third number. They, too, are full but can place her and her children in a hotel for a few nights until the needed shelter beds become available. It’s the SafeNight App that will help fund the hotel nights.
A typical situation often faced by the domestic violence agencies in Dallas County – The beds are full in the shelter, as are the beds in all the other domestic violence shelters in the county. According to TCFV (Texas Council on Family Violence), on average 39% of those seeking Emergency Shelter are denied due to lack of space. Yet, this woman and her children deserve a safe place to go, because everyone deserves a SafeNight. But, funding hotel nights is an expensive endeavor, and it’s something most domestic violence shelters have not been able to fund until now.
Today, participating agencies serving victims of domestic violence can log into their SafeNight App portal and send out a request for funding for the desperately needed hotel nights. SafeNight allows any community member who has downloaded the app and selected an agency to provide immediate funding for this crisis situation, thus allowing the agency to confidently place the family in a safe hotel and remove them for the imminent danger in their home.
Jennifer has spent nearly 20 years in the Domestic Violence space, most of that time as Executive Director of a Dallas Area shelter. She now works with AdvanceNet Labs to help all of our shelters say “yes” to those 39% of victims who were previously told “we can’t help you”.
Before working with AdvanceNet Labs, my idea of a domestic violence situation was simple and vague. It went something like this: A woman’s husband physically harms her and/or her children and she either stays or she finds alternative shelter. But I’ve recently learned that there is way more to it than that. Most college students think that since they’re not married or living with their boyfriend or girlfriend they couldn’t be in a domestic violence situation. ‘Domestic violence’ may not be an accurate term to use for college students experiencing violence, but ‘intimate partner violence’ is.
When college students experience intimate partner violence it’s not much different from those experiencing domestic violence. Both can occur emotionally and physically and can have lasting effects on the people involved. One thing, though, that makes domestic violence different is economic dependency. I’ve learned that many victims of domestic violence are not able to access the financial means to escape the abuse due to one or more forms of economic abuse. When a victim is in this situation, she can feel helpless and like she doesn’t have a way out.
Through my work with AdvanceNet Labs, I’ve also learned there are times when women’s shelters are too full. When this happens, the woman, who may also have children in tow, is turned away and left to either go back to her abuser or to find alternative shelter that still may not be safe. This is where the SafeNight app can help. SafeNight is an app that allows shelters to send out alerts when their available bed space has reached capacity. Then, community members who have downloaded the app see the alert and can donate safe nights via hotel rooms. I use my phone apps every day, and my iPhone is constantly on me. It’s amazing to see how something as simple as a phone app can be so impactful! The SafeNight app is changing lives. I would love to see it expand out of Texas and reach across to my home here in Ohio.
I often get asked, “What made you decide to leave the corporate technology world to develop and deploy solutions for the social sector like the SafeNight app? Wouldn’t your life be easier if you took a safer and more financially lucrative path?” The answer is efficiently summed up by my fellow (and in fact the founding) Social Venture Partner – Paul Shoemaker. Paul’s book of the same name would tell you it is my “Can’t Not Do“. For me, our team and our collaborators, it’s a matter of not being able to stand on the sidelines. We know we can do something to bring about large-scale change and unlock our community’s potential to provide hope and empowerment to the hurting and disenfranchised.
We also get to play a role in unlocking other people’s potential as a force for good. We help them, as another Paul (the Apostle) wrote, “to do the good works God has laid out in advance for us to do.” We help Caravan Studios, another nonprofit with amazingly intelligent and compassionate people, bring solutions like SafeNight into communities as a force for good. We help shelters to be able to say “Yes” when someone in crisis calls. We reach well-meaning people who want to make a difference and give them that opportunity – all from their smartphone.
When your SafeNight app pings you and lets you know – “We have an emergency need – a victim and her children are in a violent situation and the shelter cannot take them. Will you pay for a hotel room so they don’t have to try and survive another night of terror?”
Well, for our SafeNight donors, meeting that need for rescue becomes their “Can’t Not Do”.
We are so excited to begin our work with United Way Metro Dallas and their education programming. United Way and their education partners, City Year and the Concilio, will be using our system to perform online assessments, manage classroom activities, and have access to class material via our Learning Management System powered by CornerStone onDemand. The programs will be working with high potential students from challenging backgrounds – providing them professional and college readiness skills including Accenture’s Skills To Succeed programming.
AdvanceNet Labs staff, led by Director – Education & Empowerment Jodi Rothwell has provided a highly customized technology environment and training materials to reduce redundancy, rework, manual data entry and provide a higher quality experience and data visibilty for all program managers and participants. Technical leadership from United Way even partnered with AdvanceNet Labs to provide a “pop up online classroom” with a set of portable computers and networking that can stand up anywhere to meet students’ needs when traditional computer labs are not available.
Concilio representatives, who had administered the program without the technology support in the past already were immediately grateful for the program improvements and significant labor savings the program will provide. We are so excited to work with City Year, United Way and the Concilio on this important program!
This week, 6 Family Violence agencies met with AdvanceNet Labs at our offices at United Way Metro Dallas to look at ways to leverage technology to make sure every person experiencing violence can escape their dangerous situation.
AdvanceNet Labs is working with Caravan Studios to bring “Bed Finder” to North Texas. The program leverages notification technologies to help shelters coordinate with each other to place victims in the right shelter, and take advantage of every appropriate open space in the community.
The agencies also worked with us on our SafeResponse program – where the agencies can post immediate, critical needs. Then, our cadre of “SafeResponders” receive notifications via Facebook, email or text message – and if they want, they can make donations towards meeting those immediate needs. To register to be a SafeResponder, email firstname.lastname@example.org or like this post and we will follow up with you shortly to confirm your interest in seeing and meeting crisis needs in our community!
It was a real pleasure to attend my first Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) conference in Denver on April 21-23, 2015. Thanks to our good friends and partner, DeltaLINC, in Monroe, LA, we were able to give a presentation at the conference, garnering several enthusiastic interested potential partners from the adult education world. Our presentation was entitled “The Education Empowerment Marketplace: Connecting the Dots Between Technology, Education and Employment” and was co-presented by Kaye Sharbono, Director of DeltaLINC, and Scott Fast, former Executive Director, Accenture Foundation. Vickie Wheelis from DeltaLINC also participated, expressing how much their students have benefited by the programs we have launched there with funding from Accenture.
In addition to the presentation, I was able to attend several interesting sessions related to the work we are doing in the education space, including one on grit — the determination required of the students who have the most successful outcomes — and a particularly interesting one on 21st Century Skills and the Employability Skills Framework.
Attending the conference was very informative and gave us great networking opportunities to expand our contacts in this arena. The COABE 2016 conference will be held in Dallas.