Interview with Elizabeth Dugan, Clinical Director, Boston VIAP
Briefly introduce your program and the population that it serves
The Violence Intervention Advocacy Program (VIAP) was founded in 2006 in response to a gap in services for victims of community violence ( gunshot and stabbing victims) and to survivors of homicides (family members, friends, or anyone identified as being impacted by the incident) - presenting to the Emergency Department at Boston Medical Center. In order to provide a continuum of care for victims and families from the time of the incident until post discharge, VIAP was established and has evolved and grown in response to the needs. VIAP provides crisis intervention and stabilization in the immediate aftermath of an incident, but then continues for an unlimited amount of time to provide resources and services that include educational support, employment and job training, legal assistance, emotional and behavioral health, housing support, basic needs, transportation, and a host of other resources. VIAP also provides home visiting nursing to the victims, which has been a tremendous recent addition to our team.
What have you found to be the biggest need for this population and how has your program addressed that need?
In addition to the immediate emotional support that is needed to get through the crisis and stabilize, the biggest barriers to self-sufficiency and independence are housing- meaning the lack of affordable housing, and all the things that prevent people from acquiring affordable housing (CORI’s, bad credit, low paying jobs), level of education and educational attainment, and employment and job skills, VIAP has responded to these needs by creating an employment and job training program, with Boston Medical Center as a primary job placement site, in addition to many other community businesses. VIAP also supports high school and GED concurrently while doing career exploration, as the educational level presents as a huge barrier to move forward and grow in jobs. VIAP has also partnered with a local management company to provide Transitional Housing in independent apartments to male survivors. Thus far, we have 4 clients living in SMSV apartments.
What are your proudest regarding your work through the SMSV grant?
I think for us it is seeing the transformation of someone that gets an apartment or gets a new job. One client really wanted to cook for us, and it was important to him to be able to show us that he could do that, also for him to show us his bank account and savings- this is always a moment of clarity when you realize this may be the first time he has ever achieved these things. Another client that we put in a SMSV housing slot, it was a process for him to get to the place where he understood that this was home, he did not need to go anywhere, he did not need to live out of green trash bags- when our VIAP staff was doing a home visit, this client had his young nephew over there teaching him how to cook, and his apartment went from clothes in trash bags to fully furnished with curtains- I think the curtains for me symbolized some kind of internal change for him, yes it was definitely the curtains that made me smile for this guy. Another thing we always enjoy are the clients that have been hired and this is their first job- Boston Medical Center is one of our employment partners- so seeing some of our participants around the hospital, or they come to the VIAP office with their BMC ID’s on- this is always a great experience, and we are all very proud of them.
What new relationship or resource have you found to help move your work forward?
We have cultivated a housing relationship with a local management company, this has been great, as the owner is very open minded and forgiving regarding CORI issues and credit issues, and is really invested in providing the opportunities some of our clients may never have gotten otherwise. We are also running an intensive Employment and Job Training Program right in a community center with the Madison Park Development Corp., this is a strong collaboration and a great example of meeting people where they are at. Of the recent 6 graduates from that group, 5 were just hired at Boston Medical Center.
What is something positive a client or partner said about your work related to the SMSV grant?
“VIAP is like my family, I never had that growing up, I was always moving around, staying here and there, nobody ever told me what I should do or how I could do it- so I was just always in the streets. VIAP listens to me, and is always there for me, even if I make a mistake- I have a job and an apartment, and I get to be a role model, have my kids over to my apartment and be a great Dad.”
What have you learned that you will carry with you as you continue this work?
People need healthy communities to thrive- victims cannot survive in isolation. It takes a continuum of care and support to be well and prosper. Community violence is a public health issue and an epidemic, I carry with me the faces and voices of these young vulnerable men and it inspires me to continue to advocate, to believe in them, and continue to believe that the efforts are worth it. It is extremely humbling to be a part of their journey.