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She's Got It 16:15 26 Nov 2021

How does a social apartment help women who suffer from domestic violence or hardship?

In Ukraine, there are social apartments where women with children who suffer from domestic violence or find themselves in difficulty can receive temporary shelter. One of the first social apartments appeared in Kyiv in 2013. In the eight years of its existence, 135 women and 143 children have received appropriate assistance. Later, similar apartments began to open in other cities in Ukraine.

What is the problem?

Street children. They appeared in Kyiv around 2008 and there were a very large number of them. It was then that a joint project of HealthRight International, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and the Kyiv City State Administration raided the places where these children and teenagers were. According to the executive director of the Ukrainian Public Health Foundation, Halyna Skipalska, 20-year-old girls who already had children were among those on the streets. Many of them could be deprived of parental care and it was these girls who were the first to talk about an apartment where they could stay, regardless of social status, availability of documents, or residence permit in Kyiv.

"We consulted with the city authorities, the Kyiv City Center for Social Services," recalls Halyna Skipalska. "And together we decided that we should try to create an establishment where mothers could live, who don't yet have their own life experience but should already be responsible for the life of their child. In addition, they had a lot of problems and difficult life circumstances. The first clients who moved into a social apartment in 2013 were very young. They were up to twenty years old. I remember them very well, even after a while we met. Their faces are also on many of our booklets. Some of them were serving sentences in prisons, some left an orphanage and came into conflict with the law. They were without relatives, without support, but each of them had a child in their arms."

соціальна квартира київ

What is the solution?

For eight years, there has been a social apartment in Kyiv where women with children who suffer from domestic violence or find themselves in difficulty can receive temporary shelter. According to Halyna Skipalska, executive director of the Ukrainian Public Health Foundation, they always have visitors.

"We're looking for women who need help. In the first year, we set high barriers, although the service was high-threshold. We needed mandatory motivation for a woman to change her life for the better. We don't expect her to come with all the documents; we help renew them. If a woman wants to return home, to another city or country, we will also help. We have already helped various women: Ukrainians, Russians, refugees from Turkey, and Syria. Even the wife of the current mayor of a small town once asked us for shelter. Some students were in despair because they were abandoned by a guy," says Halyna Skipalska.

The expert notes that the range of work of a social apartment is not only the fight against domestic violence. However, if you dig into the history of every mother who comes to get help and support, there's always a place for domestic violence: being kicked out is physical violence; money being taken away is economic violence; there was also sexual violence.

соціальна квартира київ

Photo: Hromadskyi Prostir

How does it work?

The purpose of a social apartment is to work modernly and efficiently. Today it can accommodate six mothers and seven children. Living conditions are as close as possible to the family ones. The apartment doesn't have cleaners or cooks, but there is a large kitchen where women cook themselves. They are given food and even taught to cook. In addition, classes with a psychologist, therapeutic classes with children, various workshops. Also, women are fully provided with clothes, hygiene products, diapers for children. Two mothers with children live in one room. The apartment itself has three rooms and now they are all full. In addition, the apartment has a room for staff, because moms often need help. Some of the social workers are in the apartment around the clock, and the manager or lawyer comes as needed. Women live for free and don't pay anything for it.

"In general, women can live with us for up to six months, some live for up to nine or even twelve months," says Halyna Skipalska. "From the first meeting, you can usually see how long this case can last, how long we have to help a woman because situations are very different. When, for example, a woman with two children comes and they don't have any documents, then, of course, we understand that we will need to work longer with them. And when, for example, there are people who can help this mother, it can speed up getting on her feet."

Even more useful solutions!

The social apartment project positions itself as the only institution to help mothers at risk of abandoning a newborn child. Often, in difficult life circumstances, mothers think about leaving the child. There are also cases when social services want to pick up a child under certain social circumstances.

"We immediately understand when some centers are closed," says Halyna Skipalska. "There was a period when repairs were underway in the Kyiv City Center for Social and Psychological Assistance on Novodarnytska Street (people in difficult life circumstances can stay there for up to 30 days), but our number of clients increased and we felt it. Now that the city authorities have started talking about domestic violence, and when people are turning to crisis rooms, to shelters, to the hotline, because of the actualization of domestic violence, we also feel an increase in the number of women. In general, these are difficult life circumstances, because the problem of domestic violence is a manifestation of these circumstances. For the most part, there are other situations in such moments: job loss, paperwork, relocation, mental illness, crisis due to something happening to the parents, and so on. It is important that this social apartment or shelter works in conjunction and that the client is provided with services of different availability."

Besides the social apartment, there is a day center where a woman can receive the services of a social worker, psychologist, lawyer. The Center for Free Legal Aid does legal assistance.

"It is necessary to distinguish between women who come to the day center and those who are placed in a social apartment," says Halyna Skipalska. "Few people come to us with a request to find a job. In general, they come when they can't endure. Sometimes they immediately ask for safe housing for a certain period. Someone just wants to talk or get psychological help. Unfortunately, few people ask for help in resolving economic issues. A woman may simply not know that she also needs to deal with a financial issue. Then we start by motivating them to change, insisting that they can cope, that they must take responsibility for themselves and their children, and then we will talk about economic issues. For the most part, they ask for help with documents, to settle legal issues (divorce, alimony, childbirth assistance)."

Соціальна квартира Київ

What is the situation with the financing of a social apartment in Kyiv? 

The Kyiv city budget partially financed the social apartment. However, the money for 2022 is not included in the budget. According to Halyna Skipalska, for the last five years funds have been allocated for the social apartment from the "Children. Family. Capital" program, which included the "Prevention of Newborn Rejection" service. UAH 840,000 was provided per year.

"It was necessary to participate in the ProZorro bidding, everything worked out, but this year was the last for many social programs," says Halyna Skipalska. "At the same time, there are programs developed for 2022-2024, but there is no service we need. Why this happened is unclear. In my opinion, this is because of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of money goes to other related areas. We talked to the director of the Department of Social Policy, insisted on the social partnership program. She could include this service for us in a secure line. But it turned out to be impossible."

That is why public activists decided to attract socially responsible businesses. To do this, they created a social advertisement, a video of how mothers from a social apartment together with social workers baked 20 kilograms of cookies, which they packed and handed over to business representatives, embassies, and the Kyiv City State Administration. "So, we presented our social project. Now we hope that business and ordinary people will help us. We have already started receiving funds from ordinary people. In total, we want to raise 800,000 hryvnias. And we believe that we will collect this amount. We will be grateful to everyone who helps us. After all, we also support those who need it," Halyna Skipalska adds.

The content was prepared based on the "Activation with Liudmila Tiahnyriadno" program which is broadcast on Ukrainian Radio and Radio Culture.

Listen to the broadcast: https://cutt.ly/kTVyLsG 

Watch the broadcast: https://cutt.ly/YTVyS0k 

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