Safe Horizon Provides a Safe Haven

With a new child advocacy center in the Bronx, Safe Horizon continues its legacy in providing expert services to child abuse victims and their families throughout New York City (Photo: Mikiko Kikuyama)

Photos by Mikiko Kikuyama
Designers used soothing colors and lighting in the greeting area in Safe Horizon’s new Child Advocacy Center in the Bronx. (Photo: Mikiko Kikuyama)

At age 25, Maria already had experienced the terror of domestic violence. When the incidents escalated and threatened her life, she decided to leave. However, with four children and limited language skills, the scared young woman faced additional obstacles. That’s when she found a Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Shelter, where she received much more than housing. A 10-week workshop helped her develop parenting skills. Job advocates helped her find work. Other professionals helped her through social services programs. Eventually, she found a new apartment, and started on her road to recovery.

That’s the kind of story that attracted Barry Gendelman to Safe Horizon. After starting his career as a city planner in New York City government during the 1980s and managing large portfolios of city-owned properties, he moved to the city’s public hospital system as director of real estate. By 2012, he was looking for something new and realized his expertise in facilities management could assist Safe Horizon. The organization provides critical services for 57 program locations, including eight domestic violence shelters, five child-advocacy centers, and two youth drop-in locations. Safe Horizon is the largest nonprofit victim services agency in the country. Each year, it touches the lives of more than 250,000 victims of violence and abuse.

The nonprofit organization receives funding from numerous city agencies as well as federal, state, and private sources and operates in each of New York City’s five boroughs. As vice president of real estate and facilities, Gendelman manages all aspects of site selection, new builds, lease negotiations, portfolio maintenance, and capital improvements. It’s his job to provide effective, safe, and sensitive environments where victims can find the space and services they need to heal.

To help those who feel powerless, Safe Horizon staff prioritizes understanding their clients’ needs. (Photo: Mikiko Kikuyama)

“We’re trying to create a welcoming environment for clients who find themselves in very difficult situations,” he says. “Our facilities are designed to meet their needs for safety and to give them back some control, which in most cases has been taken from their lives.”

His teams take simple steps, such as altering appearance, colors, and furniture choices. Warm tones and comfortable fixtures take Safe Horizon out of the institutional realm. Site staff members greet clients and work closely to provide associated counseling, beds, job-placement services, and meals.

Since joining the organization in 2012, Gendelman has surveyed existing facilities to learn what’s worked best in the past. With those lessons in mind, he’s become involved with the planning of new facilities, including one recently opened child advocacy center (CAC) in the Bronx. On-site partners at this center include the Administration for Children’s Services, District Attorney’s office, Montefiore Medical Center, and the New York Police Department all working together to investigate and respond to the most serious cases of child abuse in the borough. Gendelman, therefore, must meet two competing requirements—he has to meet strict safety regulations and give each partner agency customized space to conduct their investigations, and he also must build unintimidating, child-friendly environments where children feel both physically and psychologically safe. To lead the project, he engaged a team of owners and architects early and took feedback from all partners at every phase.

After a traumatic event, child abuse victims come to the CAC—and so do their abusers. Victims and abusers enter through separate, isolated corridors and never cross paths. Experts say it’s best for an organization like Safe Horizon to provide the wrap-around services that child victims need in one location. Safe Horizon’s CACs include medical exam rooms, interview and counseling rooms, jail cells, line-up rooms, and security systems that all meet NYPD and Department of Corrections requirements. Gendelman says each Safe Horizon structure is developed with its users in mind. “Our clients often feel powerless, and we make sure we work collaboratively with them to address the concerns that are most important to them,” he says, adding that his peers on the programming side follow the same philosophy of understanding.

Safety and confidentiality are paramount at Safe Horizon’s client-serving buildings, whether they’re retrofitted walkup buildings or new structures. To maintain confidentiality, victims access services first by calling a domestic-violence hotline that’s operated by Safe Horizon. A trained hotline specialist then matches clients to a facility based on availability, family size, safe location, and other factors. Gendelman and his colleagues take extra measures to exclude shelter addresses from city databases and Internet search engines. Maintenance workers and others who visit the property must first sign a confidentiality agreement.

Gendelman says the most rewarding part of his job is knowing that he and his organization play a role in the recovery of an abuse victim, such as a little girl named Angelica, who came with her father to a Safe Horizon CAC after she was raped by a babysitter. While the staff helped Angelica begin to heal from this trauma, counselors also supported her father in learning how best to help his daughter  through this crisis. The Special Victims Detective and Prosecutor were able to bring her abuser to justice. By planning, developing, and maintaining the facilities that house these services, Gendelman is proud to play a part in each victim’s healing.

Beyond Buildings

Barry Gendelman’s work with Safe Horizon isn’t limited to just building planning and design. Here are some of the other initiatives he’s worked on with the organization.

  • Consolidated multiple program offices to better serve clients and increase operation efficiencies at a single downtown Brooklyn location, which now houses Safe Horizon’s anti-trafficking, immigration, Brooklyn community, and domestic violence hotline programs
  • Installed additional video surveillance security features at multiple locations to ensure safety
    of clients and staff
  • Instituted use of a web-based ticket system to automate and better manage requests for facility maintenance
  • Reengineered the internal process used to prepare vacant shelter units for new clients to reduce unit down time and make beds available more quickly for clients in need of housing
  • Instituted use of web-based lease management system to automate tracking of occupancy agreements, terms and associated key dates
  • Competitively bid cleaning service contracts at several office locations and selected new vendor resulting in improved service and cost savings
  • Opened new fully co-located Child Advocacy Center (CAC) in the Bronx, which means Safe Horizon, with its City agency partners, now operates a CAC in each of New York City’s five boroughs
  • Completed initial planning study designed to assess the feasibility of creating a new residential shelter for victims of domestic violence