NEW YORK CITY — Sometimes, the simple things can make a house feel like a home. Deedra Cheatham understands what it feels like to start all over again.
“[I] arrived after leaving a 15-year abusive relationship with the father of my children,” she said. “For me, in my head, it was it was OK -- as long as it was hidden in front of the children, I would endure it. But the breakthrough was to actually have my kids see it because then it just made it more real for me.”
Every day, millions of people in the country experience abuse within their closest relationships. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, about 12 million people in the U.S. experience violence from their intimate partners every year.
Cheatham reached out for help from an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims.
“I had to relearn myself,” Cheatham said. “I was a single parent. He was the sole breadwinner. Had to learn how to manage the checkbook.”
She did it at a shelter.
For years, emergency shelters have been the leading support network for survivors, but now, a new type is redefining what a shelter is.
“There was a gap in services,” said nonprofit Urban Resource Institute's Jennifer White-Reid.
They just opened “Brighter Days,” a new holistic domestic violence shelter in New York City.
“It is, in fact, a more holistic shelter because we were really thinking about the needs of our survivors,” White-Reid said.
The converted apartment building does much more than just house 167 domestic violence survivors.
“What we offer is not just a physical building, but the services are what is so meaningful,” White-Reid said.
As part of a whole program to help get survivors back on their feet, there are on-site services, including childcare, therapy, legal services, and job training – services typically not usually found inside a shelter.
“Having these services that are holistic, clean-centered, trauma-informed, really help families rebuild their lives,” White-Reid said.
This includes pets, which are a part of the family that many current shelters around the country don’t allow. At Brighter Days, though, pets are welcome, too.
“We want to create an environment where they feel safe, and they can all heal together with their with their animals,” White-Reid said.
That is something Deedra Cheatham understands, too. When she and her children sought shelter, she carried and soothed their pet turtle, Danny Lee.
“It was raining hard, and I never forget, just like walking and talking to her, just reassuring her,” Cheatham said. “And I had the kids with me and just like reassuring like, everybody, that we're going to be OK.”
She now works for the City of New York, advocating for those who are homeless. Her two children are in school, and the oldest is heading to community college in the fall.
“I know the feeling that I got when I first walked into my unit. I was scared,” she said. “But I come into these spaces now, and I know the power that they have. I know the healing that goes on.”
It is a journey she hopes others can begin, too.
If you or someone you know is facing an abusive relationship and needs help, you can call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or go to thehotline.org.