Barrier Free Living | 2022 National Crime Victims' Service Awards
Barrier Free Living (BFL) was founded in 1981, with a mission to provide services to the D/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 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 BFL Apartments.
BFL’s ability to provide effective responses to underserved populations and produce systematic change through advocacy is remarkable.
BFL received the Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services. Visit the OVC Gallery for more information about her work to support victims of crime.
PAUL FEUERSTEIN: Barrier Free Living started from a federally funded research and demonstration program to work with newly disabled people. And it was through that program that our domestic violence services evolved.
JULES PERKEL: The Secret Garden is a nonresidential community-based program. We offer trauma-informed client-centered counseling and psychotherapy, as well as case management services.
MAN: …That Secret Garden is there if I need the help. They’re going to be a shoulder for me to lean on.
PAUL FEUERSTEIN: One of the things we realized early on was we needed to have an accessible shelter, and there were none. It took us 14 years of advocacy to finally get the funding to build this building. And so here we have Freedom House, the first totally accessible domestic violence shelter in the United States. There were very few people dealing with domestic violence and disability. The whole point of what we're doing here is to try to instill safety into the DNA of our families.
MARIA GONZALEZ: [speaking Spanish] [translated]
There's a lot of emotional support in the group. There's also a lot of discussions around how to move on when they leave from Freedom House, so they don't end up in a similar situation.
PAUL FEUERSTEIN: Our supportive housing began because we found that about 20 percent of the people at Freedom House were going to need more robust supports to be successful in living in the community.
WOMAN 1: This is what we do.
WOMAN 2: I hear it, I do.
WOMAN 1: It’s like try to get everything…
LINDA THOMAS: It really gave me the motivation that I needed to, like, get back into school, and I'm really grateful for that.
PAUL FEUERSTEIN: We're breaking ground, working with people with disabilities and the extra challenges of domestic violence, having access to what they needed to be able to be living safely within the community. Our hope is that people are leaving supportive housing to say, "I got it!"
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