Thursday, March 4, 2010
The 21-st annual Women's Resource Fair is aimed at giving low-income, abused, homeless or recovering women the information they need to move ahead in life. Free services and resources are being offered by more than 70 organizations all day Saturday at San Diego's Golden Hall.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): The annual Women's Resource Fair has become something of a tradition in San Diego. This Saturday, the event marks its 21st year. And the fair's array of free support services and advice may never have been needed in San Diego more than right now. The Resource Fair is aimed at providing low-income, homeless, abused and recovering women some help in moving on to a better life. Here to tell us more about this Saturday's event are my guests. Nicole Cooper, a Deputy District Attorney and Co-Chair of the Women's Resource Fair Task Force. Nicole, welcome to These Days.
NICOLE COOPER (Co-Chair, Women’s Resource Fair Task Force): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Amy Fitzpatrick is the Executive Director of the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, and a volunteer for the Women's Resource Fair. Amy, good morning.
AMY FITZPATRICK (Executive Director, San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program): Good morning. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Nicole, tell me a little bit more about the kinds of problems women attending this fair might be having in their lives.
COOPER: A lot of them are having financial difficulties. They don’t have housing, they don’t have shelter. Many are domestic violence victims. They’re looking for ways to get out of a situation where they’re being battered, where they’re being abused. They need help with the legal system. A lot of the women don’t have access to medical care, and we’re willing to take in women that have all of these problems, just some of these problems, and assist them.
CAVANAUGH: Now how many women are you expecting to attend the fair this year?
COOPER: We’re anticipating about 600. We already have 400 confirmed on our buses and then we expect a lot of foot traffic as well.
CAVANAUGH: Have the number of attendees of this fair, as I say, it’s gone on for 21 years, has that increased?
COOPER: It really has. We’ve always had it at Golden Hall and the gentlemen that assist us at Golden Hall have been doing it since the beginning and they laugh how we used to be in the Silver Room, which was quite small, and now we fill up the entirety of Golden Hall, both the bottom floors and the top, so we’ve really, really grown.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Nicole, you say that many of these participants at the Women’s Resource Fair this Saturday are bused in. How does that come about?
COOPER: We reach out to shelters throughout the county. Because it’s downtown, we want to make sure that everybody in San Diego County has a chance to get there. We know that they don’t have transportation so we have an outreach committee and a transportation committee that reach out to domestic violence shelters, to homeless shelters, to recovery shelters, and we get a feel for how many women they would like to send to the fair and we send buses out to go pick them up.
CAVANAUGH: I see. Now, Amy, I mentioned this is the 21st year of the Women’s Resource Fair. How did the idea for this fair get started?
FITZPATRICK: It started back in 1999. There’s – The first Veterans Stand Down event took place then, and that was for homeless veterans. And the Volunteer Lawyer Program helped coordinate the civil legal services for that event. At the conclusion of that, people at San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program thought, well, what about the women? Because the type of clients we help were domestic violence victims and many were homeless and in difficult situations. So the staff got together with members of Lawyers Club, which is a feminist law association here in San Diego and said, let’s get this – let’s get a similar event going. And, in fact, we – it was started in Balboa Park at the War Memorial Building and then moved over to the concourse at the Civic Center. It started very small but it had a number of services very much like today – tomorrow’s – Saturday’s, excuse me. And with that, it’s grown every year.
CAVANAUGH: Now, you know, when you think about the Veterans Stand Down I think most people in San Diego are familiar with these events. You know, you think of problems that are perhaps specific to having served and, you know, perhaps having substance abuse problems, perhaps having mental health problems, I’m wondering what kinds of special needs low income or homeless women have, in particular.
FITZPATRICK: The one that is the most prominent are family law issues, issues with custody, with child support, restraining orders against abusers, benefits. If someone is leaving a relationship, often so goes the insurance and benefits for their children. There are immigration issues. Housing issues, because once a decision is made to leave, in many cases they have nowhere to go. They have questions about that. They might have lost the income that was for the entire household when they left the husband or the partner and, therefore, they’re going – not going to have a home or they can’t pay their rent. Other issues, a lot of credit and debt issues now. We’re seeing more and more people who have been living off credit cards.
CAVANAUGH: I want to talk more specifically about some of the things you mentioned but first, Nicole, you have 70 organizations that are going to be – I think more than 70 organizations, right, who are going to be offering services and resources at this fair? Can you break down and tell us a little about the kinds of organizations that women are going to be able to receive advice and resources from?
COOPER: Sure. We have almost 20 attorneys that are coming in from different areas of San Diego to talk about tax and credit, immigration, legal issues, restraining orders. We have the medical service providers who are coming in to provide flu shots. The H1N1 shot will be available this year. We have mammograms. We have a variety of different medical agencies coming in. And then the social services are really where we have the bulk of our participants going and we have housing this year, we have food stamps, we have shelters, transportation. The District Attorney’s office comes to talk about TROs. We really have just any area that these women might benefit from, they’re going to be there.
CAVANAUGH: There is a big County participation this year and that’s new, isn’t it?
COOPER: It’s better this year than it has been. It’s always tough for the county and state agencies to fund somebody to be there on a Saturday because there is no overtime and because they have a hard time paying that individual. But this year we have a lot of county and state agencies that are coming up and I think it’s because the need is so great.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Nicole Cooper. She is Co-Chair of the Women's Resource Fair Task Force, and Amy Fitzpatrick, who is a volunteer for the Women's Resource Fair. And we’re talking about the special event that’s taking place in Golden Hall this Saturday for women and only for women. Isn’t that right?
COOPER: That’s correct.
CAVANAUGH: Now there’s also a special emphasis, Amy, on helping women who are recovering from substance abuse. What special challenges do these women face?
FITZPATRICK: Well, first of all, they – many of the women got involved with drugs through their partners and they are no longer with that – with those folks and now they’re stuck with addiction. They have children to care for. Often because of their addiction, their children are taken away. So their struggles are bigger because most of the women that come to the fair have children and/or do not have their children in their care because of substance abuse problems. So they have lost their home – they’ve lost their homes, they now have this other medical condition that they have to deal with and, of course, it’s very difficult to get a job if you are a substance abuser. So these recovery homes help them get through that, and a lot of the services that we provide at the fair help them move on further.
CAVANAUGH: Now, since so many of the women involved in this Resource Fair are from shelters, etcetera, don’t they have some of these services available to them already through their shelters? Or is this array of services something that’s new for them? Nicole?
COOPER: I think it’s something that’s new for them because there are so many people that come together at once. So they have the substance abuse programs and mental health programs that they can deal with at their shelter but they don’t have the dentist that comes, the doctor that comes, the lawyer that comes. We even have self defense groups that come and put on self defense seminars to help boost their self esteem. So I don’t think they have this many people available to them at once.
CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you both because I’ve heard – we’ve done a lot of shows about the recession and we have heard that the recession has hit women especially hard. And I’m wondering, I want to get the take from both of you, do you think that’s true and, if so, why? And I’ll start with you, Nicole.
COOPER: I think it has and I think for a lot of the reasons Amy just talked about and that is because you have the tension, you have the domestic violence that in these kinds of economic times really escalates. And so you have more and more women who are without a job, without healthcare, without a place to live because of their family situation. And so women who may not necessarily be living on the street find themselves without a house, and so we’re seeing more and more women affected by the problems that used to affect just a small portion of our population.
CAVANAUGH: And what about the women – what about the kinds of jobs that a lot of women hold, were they especially vulnerable to the kinds of cuts that we’ve had during this recession?
FITZPATRICK: Absolutely because when you think of hotel work, domestic cleaners, those kinds of things, all – many of those jobs have been reduced or eliminated. So they were already on the lower paying job scale to begin with and a lot of those jobs have been reduced or eliminated. And many of the women that we see at the fair have very little education or don’t have much higher education so already that they’re behind in that to begin with. So it blocks the advancement in the workforce and, of course, now with the recession being so hard in San Diego, it’s hit very hard. It’s really – it’s impacted women much harder.
CAVANAUGH: And the issue of domestic abuse is also linked to hard economic times in several different ways. Has domestic violence gone up during this recession? Amy?
FITZPATRICK: Yes, it has. We see at our Domestic Violence Restraining Order Clinics at the courthouses, more and more women coming in and not just poor women, women in different economic scales, and that is the – that’s the biggest impact is that, yes, indeed, the stresses are very real and it affects these families and that changes their lives. It’s like an earthquake every day for some of these people.
CAVANAUGH: How so?
FITZPATRICK: Well, we’ve been hearing so much about Haiti and Chile and I looked at that and said it’s very much the way our clients live. Something dramatic happens in their home, they have to make a decision for themselves and for their children to leave. In leaving, they’re leaving all that they had, just like an earthquake victim. You no longer have your home, no security, none of the benefits that you had by being in your home. They’re all gone. But that’s repeated day after day.
CAVANAUGH: And you’re talking not only about your volunteer work with the Women’s Resource Fair but your – as Executive Director of the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program. And I’m wondering, when – do women sometimes go back to abusive situations after they lose their jobs?
FITZPATRICK: Absolutely. And it’s one of the things we face. I think that the statistic we’ve come up with is that it takes nine incidents for someone to actually leave but many, many, many people go back because they feel it’s their only option.
CAVANAUGH: And leaving a domestic violence situation is especially hard for a woman who is not a citizen, who is perhaps married to or living with a citizen. What does that open up? What kind of problems does that open up?
FITZPATRICK: Well, those are additional problems for folks. Sometimes they don’t speak the language, sometimes their English is poor. But there are remedies for women like that and there is a federal law, it’s Violence Against Women Act, that will allow spouses of citizens of the U.S. to apply on their own for permanent residency and citizenship. And that is an option that they will learn about at the fair if they come. There are going to be immigration attorneys there that can explain this, and we do see many, many immigrant women who suffer even more. They are in the low end of the pay scale. They – English is not often their first language or an English – or a language that they can handle well. And they’re in an abusive situation and think that they can’t come forward to complain about it because they’re afraid about their immigration status.
CAVANAUGH: In addition to all the women who are going to be attending the Resource Fair, it sounds as if your San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program has been very busy lately.
FITZPATRICK: We have been. The numbers are up in all of our teams. We help low income San Diegans in many different areas and many of the attorneys will be there and many of our volunteer attorneys because we use volunteer attorneys in the community to help us, will be at the fair in the legal section. They’ll also be helping in other areas of the fair on Saturday.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Amy Fitzpatrick. She is Executive Director of the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, and a volunteer at the Women's Resource Fair. And Nicole Cooper, she’s a Deputy District Attorney and Co-Chair of the Women's Resource Fair Task Force. I want to ask you both, how did you get involved in this? How did you get involved in this, Nicole? Sounds like an awful lot of work and I don’t think that you’re kind of a slacker being a Deputy District Attorney there.
COOPER: I was – I joined Lawyers Club in an effort to get more involved in the community, meet other attorneys outside of the District Attorney’s office. Bonnie Dumanis was the president of Lawyers Club at one point and so she encourages people to get involved. And through Lawyers Club, the Women’s Resource Fair was one of the options. And it just seemed like an amazing organization, an amazing group of women and something very worthwhile, so I started out doing the gift bags. At the end of the day, each fair, we give the women a tote bag that’s filled with soaps and shampoos and lotions and books and anything we can get donated from the community that might assist them. And that was how I got started and then ended up being the co-chair and have been doing that for about four years.
CAVANAUGH: And you, Amy, how did you become involved? Right off the – from the beginning?
FITZPATRICK: No, I’ve been involved for eight years.
FITZPATRICK: I became a staff attorney at the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program for the HIV and AIDS team and a number of the clients there encouraged to go to the fair. And because the Volunteer Lawyer Program helped start – was one of the founders with Lawyers Club back in 1990, my predecessor, the executive director at the time, was very heavily involved with the fair and I have been ever since.
CAVANAUGH: Now let me get back to the kinds of things that women are going to be able to access at this Resource Fair, and you mentioned, Nicole, that a lot of women are going to be bringing children to this event. So what kind of act – what are the kids going to do all day?
COOPER: We usually have about 200 kids and they range – We have the infants stay with their mothers, so we have toddlers up into the teens. We want to make sure that their activities are as enriching as the women’s, so for the younger kids we have sing-alongs, we have reading, we have healthy eating seminars, well, not really a seminar but – a program for the kids.
COOPER: And we have a lot of activities so that they’re being stimulated both mentally and physically throughout the day. For the teens, we have them in a separate group and they’re going to have yoga. They have a judge that comes in to talk about, you know, legal issues for juveniles and things they may be facing. We have self esteem people coming in to talk about how they can help develop their self esteem. And it’s going to be a busy day for all of them.
CAVANAUGH: Because when women are really hurting, when they’re having hard times their children are usually hurting, too. Tell us a little bit more about that, Nicole.
COOPER: It’s tough on the kids because a lot of times, you know, they don’t have two parents to rely on. They have a mother who’s going through a lot of things emotionally and so they become very independent at a very early age and often a little jaded. You know, we see some kids that are way too old for their years, and so what we want to do is try to teach them coping skills that they can use to help survive the situation as well and to help their mom or help whoever it is that they’re living with.
CAVANAUGH: And, Amy, is there always this idea for women who are at risk in so many ways that maybe the children are going to be taken away?
FITZPATRICK: It’s true, and they are in some situations because in – the other – the sad fact about the child custody issues is sometimes if the spouse has a lawyer and the woman does not, she can’t really fight for her rights and fight for her kids. It’s not automatic that the woman anymore gets the children, and it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be automatic. But with that disparity in access to the justice system, that’s a problem. So there is that problem that the foster care – They’re often threatened. The line is, CPS, Child Protective Services, will come and take your children, and they’re very fearful of that and it’s another reason why people end up staying with people who they shouldn’t be with.
CAVANAUGH: And – But at this fair the kids are going to be well taken care of.
COOPER: They are. There’s a lot of volunteers that are going to look after them.
CAVANAUGH: So you, over the years, as you’ve been a volunteer and you’ve been a volunteer for eight years, you must’ve heard a lot of stories about how previous Women’s Resource Fairs have maybe affected the lives of women. And I wonder, Nicole, what kind of feedback you’ve gotten about these fairs?
COOPER: We get some amazing feedback every year. We had a woman come in as a volunteer who had been a participant in the past. She had gained so much from attending the fair that now she was on her feet, she had a home, she had a job, and she wanted to come back and share her experiences with the women who were going through what she had been through, so that was very inspiring. And we have women like that every year. We have women that come up at the end of the day and hug you because they think they may have found a place to live. We had one woman come in whose abuser was actually at the front door and she was attempting to leave an abusive situation, she was scared, she was frightened, and the shelters that were there came together and they took her away from the fair into an anonymous women’s shelter and we had to have some assistance, you know, making sure that her batterer didn’t get in but everything worked out really well.
CAVANAUGH: That’s an amazing story. Amy, any letters, any testimonials from people who’ve been to fairs before?
FITZPATRICK: Every year I get letters after the fair because our – the co-chairs and my name are listed as running the fairs each year, they find the address of Volunteer Lawyer Program and they send letters. And we get letters every year saying I – it’s incredible that so many—and they often say—women lawyers are giving up their Saturday to come and help us. It’s amazing. Many people are amazed at how many things they can do in one day because we set those tables up in one – in Golden Hall. They can walk around at their own pace and really talk to professionals from up to 70 organizations and it’s an amazing experience. I wanted to say about one woman who came to the legal table last year. She didn’t speak English very well. She had an issue seeking a divorce, wondering if she could get a divorce, and she got help. And she said that it was the first time – she didn’t know that lawyers did anything other than defend criminals. She didn’t understand that there was – there were people who actually can help you on a positive side to do things. And she came up and told that to one of the attorneys who was at the fair. So it was really – it was – we take it for granted that people know that there’s a civil legal system out there to help people but the only lawyer she’d ever encountered was a public defender for her partner who was a – who was being accused of a crime.
CAVANAUGH: That’s amazing. Now, Nicole, the shelters themselves, the other organizations that bus in the women who participate or a lot of the women who participate, they must – they give you some reaction to how the women feel after they’ve attended the fair.
COOPER: They’re always very appreciative. And we know that they’re happy because every year they reach out to us. They want to know when the fair’s going to be, they want to make sure that they are able to get as many women there as they can. Some shelters even make it mandatory because they find the services so essential for their participants, so just their continued participation in the fair and their continued encouragement and attendees really shows us how much they find value in our program.
CAVANAUGH: And I just wanted to make it clear, you don’t have to get on a bus to go to this fair.
COOPER: Absolutely not.
CAVANAUGH: So anybody can walk in and it’s free of charge?
COOPER: It’s free of charge. It’s open to all women, whether they need medical services, legal services, social services. They are all welcome. They can come in. Our doors open at 8:30, we’re open until 4:00 and they’re welcome to come for one part, all parts, anything they need.
CAVANAUGH: Do they have to bring their own food?
COOPER: No, we provide breakfast and we provide lunch.
CAVANAUGH: Well, that’s great, and they can also bring the kids.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you both so much for coming in and talking to us today. I really appreciate it.
COOPER: Thank you for having us.
FITZPATRICK: Thank you so much.
CAVANAUGH: I have been speaking with Nicole Cooper. She’s Deputy District Attorney and Co-Chair of the Women's Resource Fair Task Force, and Amy Fitzpatrick is the Executive Director of the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, and a volunteer for the Women's Resource Fair. I want to remind everyone, the Women’s Resource Fair takes place this Saturday. It runs from 8:30 to 4:00 at Golden Hall at the Civic Center in downtown San Diego. If you’d like to comment about this segment or anything you hear on These Days, you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.