People of Housing Security:
Middle Way House Resident Advocate helps domestic violence survivors navigate housing, financial needs.
Jessica Jemison grew up and worked in Owen County, so she understands the challenges of rural communities, including the lack of resources to address domestic violence.
She encounters these issues and others in her role as Resident Advocate at Middle Way House, a Bloomington-based nonprofit that supports survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. The organization works in Monroe, Owen, Greene, and Martin counties, and provides transitional housing in a Bloomington apartment complex called The Rise.
When people come to Middle Way House, Jessica helps assess their needs. It might start with getting personal documents that are required for housing, government benefits or a job. Sometimes, an abuser will withhold or even destroy items like a birth certificate or personal identification in order to prevent someone from fleeing.
She’ll also talk to each survivor about their personal goals. Housing is an obvious need, though the type of housing differs depending on the person’s resources. “I really follow their lead on what they want,” she said. It’s an empowerment model that Middle Way House prioritizes. “It’s us, as providers, trusting that people know what’s best for themselves.”
It’s hard to find housing that fits the income level of many Middle Way clients. “You can’t get a studio [apartment] for less than $1200, you know?” Jessica said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Landlords often require credit checks for new tenants, which is difficult for survivors of domestic violence. “There is a very strong financial factor to domestic violence,” Jessica said. Many survivors have low credit scores, because their abuser didn’t let them work or would get credit in their names and run up debt.
A lack of financial resources is one reason why survivors stay with their abusers, Jessica explained. “In their mind, it’s better than their children being on the street, where they could also be victimized. I wish more people knew about that more tangible aspect of domestic violence.”
“There is a very strong financial factor to domestic violence…I wish more people knew about that more tangible aspect of domestic violence.”-Jessica Jemison, Middle Way House
Some landlords also view renters with housing choice vouchers (Section 8) as less important, Jessica said, or don’t understand that a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) voucher is used for the Section 8 program. It sometimes takes months to find an apartment, even when a client is contacting 30-40 different complexes each week.
“There are a lot of negative stereotypes so I feel that people are ignored pretty often,” she said. Part of her job is to fight that stigma.
Jessica graduated from Ball State University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. While in college, she worked as a pharmacy tech and helped staff one of the first COVID-19 testing sites. After graduation, her first job was with Centerstone as a recovery coach in Owen and Morgan counties. She also ran a domestic violence support group in Owen County called “Seeking Safety.”
Rural counties tend to have more instances of domestic violence, Jessica noted. Life there can be very isolating, especially if someone doesn’t have access to transportation or technology, like the internet. “People would be surprised about how much illiteracy there is, and lack of education,” she said.
With a high case load of about 70 clients at that previous job, Jessica struggled with burnout — an issue for many people who work in social services. The need is great while resources are scarce. “You get emotionally burnt out because you have nothing to offer people who are struggling,” she said, adding that it’s a flaw with the current system, not just one agency.
Wanting to stay in social work, Jessica was looking for a lighter case load so that she could provide people with the kind of in-depth support they needed. She found that at Middle Way, and joined the nonprofit in August of 2022. Her case load is typically around 10 clients.
When she’s not working, Jessica likes to read or go hiking at Cedar Bluff, Leonard Springs or any of the Sycamore Land Trust nature preserves. She’s also busy planning for her September wedding to Ramsay Sadler, a local chef. The couple lives in Bloomington with their three cats: Boots, Hops and Pixel.
About the People of Housing Security: This series highlights the work of those committed to improving the lives of residents in South Central Indiana. Find all the articles in this series here.