Friday, August 24, 2012

Why It Takes So Long, from May

Amirah Bloggers are taking the month of August to celebrate summer and seven months of great work. We'll be back in the fall. In the meantime, enjoy some of our favorite posts from this past year.
Bob shared this on May 17

I am SO ready for Amirah to open.

Agencies on ground-level have confirmed that the need for aftercare is both real and huge and we will be filled up very soon after we open.  So why can't we open?  We've been preparing for three years, figuring out what we need to do and putting the pieces together.  Does it really have to take so long? Hundreds of passionate, generous and patient people have supported us so far.  How much longer will we all have to wait?   So goes my internal battle.

In times when I get especially impatient, I have to coach myself away from the edge of making bad decisions just because I'm tired of waiting.  The truth is, there are very good reasons why it's taking so long; and since I'm feeling impatient again, I thought I'd invite you to listen in as I remind myself of those reasons, in case you wrestle with some of the same questions.

1. We are at the beginning of a movement, when little is established and much is being discovered and created.
Perhaps an analogy will help.  If you have a craving for cake, you have the choice of running to the store and buying one, or baking one from scratch.  The first option is quick and easy (20 minutes before cake is in mouth), the latter takes a little longer (60-90 minutes).  Either way, the process is simple and the time frame is fairly short.  But what if you lived in a time when cake hadn't been created yet, and you had to start with questions like "what is cake?" and "what combination of ingredients and heat will make cake tasty?"  Now you're looking at a much more complex and lengthy process.  

The idea of creating safe homes in the US that provide whole-person restorative care for adult trafficking survivors is surprisingly new.  The few that have opened are still in their infancy, creating their systems and learning what does and doesn't work; so there's no manual yet on how to do it, no template, no "dummy's guide to starting a safe home".  Factor in, too, that these existing safe homes are committed to slightly different missions in very different locations, so what is true and works for one doesn't necessarily apply to others.  Also add in that there is precious little training and few established protocols out there for partnering with law enforcement and medical and mental health professionals, all of whom have essential roles in making aftercare work.  So, we have to work out a Boston-specific vision, write our own "manual", and create our own partnerships and protocols, etc, etc.  And to do all that well takes a long time.

2.  The system we have to create is necessarily complex. 
If all we had to do was find a facility and staff it with good-hearted volunteers, we could have opened long ago.  But in order to care well for trafficking survivors, we need to build something much more complex.  We have to figure out, for example, how to create a high level of safety/security without making it feel over-controlled and eerily similar to the environments our residents have just come out from.  We need to understand what it means to be "trauma-sensitive", and hire experienced staff who can build and manage day-to-day interactions and habits in a way that results in the restoration of severely traumatized women. We need to build relationships and protocols with referral partners, understand the legal parameters in providing care for internationals, establish sites where we can assess health prior to admittance, arrange for translation services, and figure out how to create an environment where each survivor can be on her own path of restoration AND contribute to a restorative community dynamic in the home.  All that and much more has to be worked out BEFORE we open, lest we bring women into an environment that's not ready for (and could potentially re-traumatize) them, only because we haven't done our homework and prepared well.

Do we really need to do all that?  Well, those who are experts have said to us, without exception, "YES!"; and as we talk with them in more detail about how we're thinking and the pieces we're putting together, they often say something like "wow, finally someone understands!" and are quick to offer their ongoing support.  All the thought, documentation and relationship-building that's needed to support such a complex system takes a long time, and thorough preparation is something we can't compromise.

3. And then there's the money. We need to raise $800,000/year.
When we realized a while back that Amirah would have to be staffed by experts, we knew that would translate into salaries and services that require a much larger budget than we originally anticipated.  And since we have chosen to not rely on government funding (for reasons I'll put in a separate blog some time), that means we have to raise the money we need from private sources.  To be sustainable, we can't open the home until we have six months of funding ($400K) in the bank and a well-developed system of support from foundations, major donors, community partners and grassroots supporters.

So where are we now?  #1 is, for the most part, done.  #2 needs a little more work, but not much.  Which leaves #3 as THE MAJOR FACTOR that will determine when we open.  There are a number of financial conversations in the works that could result in having all the money we need in the bank fairly soon.  Or not.  Until we know, I'll keep coaching myself away from the edge.

Bob Atherton is Amirah's Executive Director of Operations.  

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