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How a Barre domestic violence shelter cares for others while cleaning up themselves

 A road is closed due to high water
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
Downtown Barre was flooded shortly after 5 p.m. Monday, July 10. Mosaic Vermont was among those devastated in the flooding.

Mosaic Vermont in Barre provides shelter for those affected by domestic and sexual violence. The recent flooding has left them finding shelter for those in their care while also cleaning up themselves.

Our guest:

Below is a transcript for a portion of Ward's conversation with host Mikaela Lefrak. It's been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mikaela Lefrak: We have spoken on the show here to folks who have lost their homes, lost their businesses from the flooding. Mosaic works with people who oftentimes needed to leave their homes because they were unsafe, and came to you. And now your place — this place of refuge — has been hit hard. Can you tell us what happened to Mosaic during the floods?

Anne Ward: Sure, it's been absolutely heartbreaking here in Barre City. I was able to evacuate with my family from my home in Berlin and you know, thought that it would be safe here at Mosaic. And in a lot of ways that was exactly the place that I needed to be. And to watch the water rise, we ended up completely submerged, and unable to leave the building here. But we were able to evacuate the families that needed to be evacuated at the time. And we were here to see, you know, the city go under.

And when the water drained to the extent that it did, we had lost two-thirds of our housing, which is attached to our office building here, and we lost our essential functions in our buildings, so furnace and hot water. And we've been doing our best to pick up the pieces and to work with volunteers and community supports in the meantime.

So you said the folks at Mosaic were able to be evacuated. Now, you know, we've heard stories of people who had to leave their homes and went to a Red Cross shelter, went to a friend or family member's house. But those options aren't always available to the people that Mosaic is working with. Where do people go, if they can't stay there?

That's true. We really hesitated to encourage anybody to go from our program to the emergency Red Cross shelters that were set up. So for example, for us, that's the Barre Auditorium, and it's not very far of a walk. But for the people who are housed with Mosaic, that's often, you know, an incredibly unsafe place to be. And so, for the folks who evacuated from here, we were looking at other options, friends or family that you can stay with really briefly, just while the water's high. And, you know, what could possibly be safe right now, especially when all of the hotels were full — you couldn't even purchase a room that night.

And it also meant coming back, even though things were not great here for the first 10 days, you know, we were without essential functions, and there was significant damage to units that folks were living in, and we had a deadline in which we had to get some of our functioning back or people had to leave permanently. That's a really hard thing to think about doing. When folks are coming from really extreme situations already, landing here, and needing to really reconsider what might be available.

The Auditorium is not an option. It's not a safe place for many of the folks that we're serving.

Could you spell that out for us? Why isn't it a safe place?

You know, many folks who are fleeing violence may end up being housed in congregate housing, like the Auditorium, where it's a big room and you're set up with cots, you know, with the people who caused them harm in the first place.

Or we're talking about folks who have had really incredible violence occur and don't feel safe around any number of people or going into public restrooms. Or, you know, one of our target populations here are people who are LGBTQ+. Often people who are transgender are at a much higher risk of experiencing violence in congregate care.

And that's one of the things that makes Mosaic so unique, is that we have individual apartments for each of the individuals or families who are staying with us, because they require a different level of safety than some of the more traditional shelters for people experiencing homelessness, who, you know, share rooms and are really closely housed together.

I don't want to invade the privacy of any of the folks that Mosaic works with, but I am wondering if you might be able to share generally an update on how the people you work with are doing. What have you been hearing in the past couple of days?

Well, you know, everybody's really struggling right now. We've had some really hopeful moments where, you know, a family was able to move from our facility into a permanent housing situation that was in the works prior to the flood, and that was just a really big relief and really exciting for us.

You know, unfortunately, in times following natural disasters, you see a real spike in sexual and domestic violence in the areas hit the hardest, and that's something that we're seeing here as well. We have complaints coming out of — concerns coming out of the congregate housing, the shelters. We have folks who are finding themselves needing to engage in survival sex, are being coerced into sex, who are precariously housed with unsafe folks and feel that pressure to, you know, to — transactional sex that you know, is really not by choice.

We see an instability for children. And, you know, a higher density of folks living together with people who are potentially unsafe, so we'll see an increase in child sexual abuse. And you know, the calls are coming in, and we them to.

We need to have an understanding of what's going on in our community and the areas that we can send support, and what we can ask our lawmakers and our community leaders to be thinking about right now, while so many people are struggling in addition to the housing crisis that already existed.

I've also seen studies from the American Psychiatric Association that says the hotter the weather gets, the more violence and domestic abuse get reported? Is that true for you, in your experience in the summertime?

I don't think that we've measured that at Mosaic. But certainly lots of different stressors can increase you know, the prevalence of violence. We do see that here, and we need to be ready to respond. And I think the important message here is, you know, even when the water was at our building, and we had no choice to leave anymore, our 24-hour helpline remains available, our services remained available.

It's sort of complicated for our team here. Because when the devastation hit us directly as a team, the most important thing that we can do is continue to provide the services for people experiencing violence, and we do that. But that also means that there's little ability to sort of stop what you're doing and dig out the basement and strip the housing units down to their studs.

And so we've just seen tremendous support from the community to do that.

How to help Mosaic Vermont

Ward says for folks who want to help out the shelter, they should look on Mosaic Vermont's social media, both on Instagram and Facebook, where volunteer opportunities will be posted. She said to please not reach out individually.

Ward also said monetary donations are welcome on those social channels or Mosaic Vermont's website.

Broadcast at noon Monday, July 24, 2023; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or check us out on Instagram.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Andrea Laurion joined Vermont Public as a news producer for Vermont Edition in December 2022. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. Before getting into audio, Andrea worked as an obituary writer, a lunch lady, a wedding photographer assistant, a children’s birthday party hostess, a haunted house actor, and an admin assistant many times over.