Mary Claire Landry, director of Domestic Violence Services for the Catholic Charities in New Orleans, discusses the challenge of rebuilding effective responses to domestic violence in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The following is a transcript.
ROBERT V. WOLF: This is Rob Wolf with another New Thinking podcast from the Center for Court Innovation. Today I'm with Mary Claire Landry, who is the director of Domestic Violence Services for the New Orleans arm of Catholic Charities and also serves as the Secretary of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Thanks so much for joining me today.
MARY CLAIRE LANDRY: Thank you for having me.
WOLF: I wanted to talk about what's happened with domestic violence services in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. Maybe you could take me back three years. Obviously Katrina was devastating to the entire city, devastating to the infrastructure.
LANDRY: Well I think after Katrina, what we experienced is just, as you know, just a community just broken in so many ways. We knew immediately when we got back into the city a couple of months after Katrina and we were able to re-inhabit the city, that we had to find new and different ways to identify victims of domestic violence and find those places that we knew they would start showing up.
We knew people were not going to know where to go for services, and we knew that people were going to be experiencing domestic violence in ways that they had not, maybe not been exposed to before. We knew that we were gonna have a lot of situational domestic violence, which is not your typical control-type of long-term, escalating violence, but just really related to coping, the lack of coping mechanisms, of coping support systems, of couples that had been married, 20, 30, 40 years and never experienced domestic violence coming in with very severe cases, very kind of primal responses.
Not only did we see an increase, but I think it exposed the domestic violence that was already there. They won’t call the police, they won't go to the court systems. It got really exposed after Katrina when those systems went away.
WOLF: What happened to the resources you had? You had had shelters, you had had some, obviously programs running prior to the hurricane.
LANDRY: Absolutely. We ran the traditional emergency shelter in New Orleans. We lost one of our buildings to fire, and one that flooded substantially and we couldn't use it. So we were down to one building. The other partner that did a lot of the work traditionally in domestic violence for 30 something years, the YWCA, flooded substantially and that organization didn't recover. They did not re-open. So we took over a lot of the services—a lot of the non-residential services—that the Y operated prior to Katrina.
We lost all of our funding contracts after Katrina, and we had to go back and fight because what I heard immediately after Katrina is ‘There's nobody living in New Orleans, there's no domestic violence, you know, you lost your shelter, so you know, we don't feel we need to fund you.’
WOLF: And those were local funding sources?
LANDRY: It was federal, state, and local. And I basically had to say, ‘You know, even though I lost all my staff, we are recovering. We're rebuilding our infrastructure and domestic violence is not going to go away. It's going to be, it’s ever more critical that we get our services back up and we need your support.’ And fortunately, it took me about six months to recover all of our funding grants.
WOLF: So it sounds like you almost had a clean slate after, I mean no funding, resources gone, and you mentioned your staff...
LANDRY: … Was all over the country. I came back to New Orleans with three employees. I mean, when I came back and I saw my building burned, and saw the ashes and saw my car in ashes, and saw my home, you know, while it really just was very disheartening and difficult and the loss was tremendous, I also saw tremendous opportunity. I saw us really having an opportunity to redesign services the way we always wanted to.
We were starting from scratch, and how many people in a lifetime have an opportunity to, to just rethink, start from scratch and say, this is what we know, we have the expertise, we know what's going to work and what doesn't work? And if we're going to spend all this time and money in putting back an infrastructure, let's do it the right way. Let's do it, let's look at all the best practices and design a system that's really going to be responsive. And that's what we've done.
WOLF: So tell me about that. What does it look like now? What have you created?
LANDRY: Well, it's been incredible. I mean what we created, we redesigned how we provide housing. We no longer do the shelter model. We provide hotel vouchering, we provide safe houses that we lease in Catholic Charities names that are located throughout the city so that if people want to stay in their community they can stay where they feel comfortable and where they feel safe.
LANDRY: They like the independence. You know, we really wanted to get away from congregate living because that's very difficult for women who are in trauma and who are moving away from a control issue, to move into a congregated living situation where they have to follow rules. And other people are making decisions.
So we really want to be able to respect their need for independence and control over their own lives. We identified every entry point that we knew that survivors would show up for services: healthcare, emergency rooms, police, court systems, and we put trained advocates in all those systems to make those linkages. Very, very effective.
But the most exciting initiative is the Family Justice Center because it just makes so much sense to locate everything—especially people who are in trauma, especially in a disaster area where everything that's familiar is gone, to really have one place that we could direct women and families or anybody who's a victim, to get all those services and to really get the partners on board to work with us, to redesign this vision. And that's what the Family Justice Center has enabled us to do.
WOLF: Describe the facility for me. You picked a location and started from scratch?
LANDRY: We were very fortunate. At one point we were really actually thinking of putting the Family Justice Center in FEMA trailers. That's how desperate we were. At the end of June the city came forward with a city-owned building that was vacant, that had not been flooded. It was an old firehouse from the 1850s, one of the first original firehouses in New Orleans, and we had our grand opening two years to the date of Katrina. And we just celebrated our one-year anniversary.
WOLF: And so describe it to me. What is there? What happens?
LANDRY: What we have on site is the New Orleans Police domestic violence unit, we have the district attorney on site, we also have city attorneys, and then of course we have Crescent House. We have a whole range. We have an NOPD advocate, we have a legal advocate, we have a number of case managers that are on site.
WOLF: So Crescent House is the Catholic Charities’ domestic violence package of services.
WOLF: That used to be a shelter.
WOLF: ...per se and now it's -
LANDRY: We will get them to safety. We do the safety plan, you know, it really wraps services around the survivor when she comes into the Family Justice Center, we provide all of those social services.
WOLF: And what are the advantages of bringing everyone together in one location?
LANDRY: Well I think it just has given us the leverage to be able to look at domestic violence as a community issue and to look at community solutions so that it's not just Crescent House going, saying ‘What should be the criminal justice response to this? What should be the law enforcement?’ Because as you create that holding place, which is the Family Justice Center, it really brings those partners in, and it brings buy-in. And so that, you know, it's not just one system that is working or not working. We're all working toward really looking at how this is impacting the survivors.
WOLF: Are there things you can tell me about, things that have changed as a result of the insights that you have come to or the collaboration that has come about as a result of being co-located in the center?
LANDRY: Absolutely. You know, the domestic violence detectives now have protocols that we use so that we can work with them so if a woman or a victim does not know how to navigate the police system and she's distrusting of the police system, that we can establish, re-establish that relationship. The relationship between the police and the district attorney, the relationship between the city attorney and the district attorney, to make sure that those communications—so that if we need to get a case moved from a misdemeanor charge to a felony charge, the Family Justice Center provides that avenue for that to happen very quickly, and funding the Family Justice Center has really enabled us to bring more prosecution resources to the table.
So one of the things that we've done is we've funded some investigative positions to assist the police. We've actually funded some city attorney positions. We've actually funded the district attorney position. And that was one of the things that we negotiated with the Office of Violence Against Women when we were in the initial discussions because our criminal justice system was just devastated after Katrina. They were down to one city attorney.
WOLF: So it sounds like there was, in a way, a silver lining. It sounds outrageous to say about something as devastating as Hurricane Katrina, but you've been able to take advantage of the circumstances, the starting from scratch, and create something that sounds like it's better than what it replaces.
LANDRY: Absolutely, and I just, for myself personally, to stay in New Orleans and help the recovery, my commitment was if I was gonna stay and do this, and rebuild this, why would I go back and rebuild a broken system? It just doesn't make any sense. We have this incredible opportunity. We had the support of the federal government, the Office of Violence Against Women could not have been more helpful in bringing resources to us, to help our city to do that.
WOLF: And so you're up here with a team of people visiting Brooklyn, and you're here with the Brooklyn D.A.'s Office and their Family Justice Center, and you've seen the domestic violence courts operating here, and you've seen the traditional criminal court. And I wonder, I don't know if it's too soon, if you've been able to process it, have you seen things that you want to take back with you or lessons you learned?
LANDRY: Absolutely. I mean we look at some software and tracking systems that we definitely can implement, that they have shared with us. The Center for Court Innovation is going to provide us with a tool kit to help really create this domestic violence court. The judge that is with us is really interested in doing this.
WOLF: Really great. Well you know, I've really enjoyed talking with you and learning what's going on in New Orleans. We read about it all the time in the paper, and I can't imagine going through that, and it sounds like you've really been able to do something positive.
LANDRY: Well, it's been an incredible journey and it's been exciting and, you know, I tell people it's like being part of the wild, wild west. We had this incredible opportunity. It's quite challenging, but it's also very rewarding, so I'm very grateful for what we've been able to create.
WOLF: Well thank you for taking the time and sharing your ideas and what you've been doing.
LANDRY: Thank you.
WOLF: I've been speaking with Mary Claire Landry, who's the Director of Domestic Violence Services for the New Orleans Arm of Catholic Charity. And she also serves as Secretary of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. I'm Rob Wolf and this has been another New Thinking podcast, produced by the Center for Court Innovation. And to find out more about the Center for Court Innovation, you can visit our website at www.courtinnovation.org.