Barrier Free Living | Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Service
Bronx, New York
Barrier Free Living (BFL) was founded in 1981, with a mission to provide services to the Deaf and disabled community. Over time, BFL realized that many of their clients had a history of victimization by members of their family or significant others. Specialized services to assist these individuals were lacking; thus, BFL made domestic violence (DV) a focus of its mental health program. Eventually, it evolved into the agency’s primary focus. BFL helps people through three innovative programs: Secret Garden, Freedom House, and Barrier Free Living Apartments.
Secret Garden is a community-based DV program for adult domestic violence survivors with disabilities and those who are D/ deaf. The only DV program in New York City that focuses on this population, Secret Garden was the first to offer occupational therapy as part of its healing and recovering process. In 2009, Secret Garden received the Mary Byron Award for Celebrating Solutions in Domestic Violence, for their innovative and outstanding work to break the cycle of domestic violence.
Freedom House is the first accessible DV crisis shelter in the U.S. It opened in 2006 with 86 beds, and has since expanded to 106 beds in 2020. Freedom House often shelters individuals who have been denied services by other DV providers. They created Beyond Freedom in 2012, which is a transitional support group of current and former Freedom House residents who meet to discuss experiences, progress, challenges, barriers, and successes as they navigate life after residential living.
Freedom House is also one of the first shelters to develop a counseling program for children and their parents. They also created a child care center so children would not be exposed to trauma during their parent’s in-take session. As a result of BFL’s advocacy efforts, the NYC Human Resources Administration (NYC HRA) announced in 2019 that they would pay for 100% of in-person or virtual American Sign Language interpretation in all NYC HRA-funded shelters. Freedom House collaborated with New York University’s Applied Psychology Program to develop and refine safety checklists for residents.
BFL Apartments is a permanent supportive housing program for victims with disabilities. It opened in 2015, and now has 70 studio apartments for single individuals and 50 one- and two-bedroom apartments for families. They successfully advocated for New York State to create a domestic violence category for future supportive housing programs, which will vastly improve access to permanent housing.
BFL’s ability to provide effective responses to underserved populations and produce systematic change through advocacy is remarkable. BFL President and Chief Executive Officer, Paul Feuerstein, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence in October 2020.
2022 National Crime Victims' Service Awards Tribute Video
Watch this video to learn more about Barrier Free Living, 2022 recipient of the Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services.