Women of the Northwest

Hilary Levine-Navigating the Intersectionality of Domestic & Sexual Violence, Homelessness, and Social Change

February 06, 2024 HIlary Levine Episode 86
Women of the Northwest
Hilary Levine-Navigating the Intersectionality of Domestic & Sexual Violence, Homelessness, and Social Change
Show Notes Transcript

 Hilary Levine started adventures travelling across the country with Punk rock groups selling merch, then got a degree in tenant law, spent time working with the houseless and anti violence, went on to work at the Harbor with victims of domestic violence, received a master’s degree in social work and now is an administrator at Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. 

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Hey hey listeners! I’m your host Jan Johnson and I am so glad you’re here…


My guest today started adventures travelling across the country with Punk rock groups selling merch, then got a degree in tenant law, spent time working with the houseless and anti violence, went on to work at the Harbor with victims of domestic violence, received a master’s degree in social work and now is an administrator at Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Let’s welcome Hilary Levine.


Jan: Well, hello, listeners. Thanks for joining us today. I have Hilary Levine with me, and she went to law school after she got done traveling across the country with punk groups selling merch and has worked in domestic violence shelter and at the Harbor and different places like that. It, it's going to be fun to interview her and enter into her life a little bit. So welcome, Hillary.

Hilary: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Jan: Yeah. So tell us a little about punk stuff. How'd you get, was that something you enjoyed as a teenager or just something?

Hilary: Yeah, it's funny to think about how it started. I mean, I think I just fell into a love of punk music probably when I was like 1112. And a couple of my friends, even then in 7th grade, had their first punk band. It was called the Mugs. And shout out to my best friend Adam. I met him and we kind of got into it from there. I would say that for me, getting into punk music was a lot about politics.

Jan: Oh, really?

Hilary: Yeah. So it was a lot of diy ethic and kind of more radical politics and kind.

Jan: Yeah.

Hilary: So I grew up listening to a lot of Bob Dylan and different kind of revolutionary music from my parents. And then I suppose that could be the same thing generationally for my generation.

Jan: Interesting.

Hilary: Yeah. And so then I kind of just carried a love for that music and found friends that loved that music as well and ended up with a group of friends in the Bay area. I lived in Oakland for years and there's just really cool networks of bands that have toured all over the country and know each, you know, you stay at each other's houses and they stay at your house, and then when you're on tour, you stay at their house and have shows in their basements. And a lot of us moved around from different place to different place, living in different kind of punk houses.

Jan: Yeah, it was fun. It's a different kind of community then that you build together.

Hilary: Absolutely.

Jan: Well, I suppose it's probably similar, like the Brownsmead fFats, having their group of folks when they travel at different places and whatever too.

Hilary: Yeah, absolutely.

Jan: Same kind of thing.

Hilary: Yeah. And it's fun that I still have friends, like, all across the country that kind of know each other just from that period in our lives of traveling around.

Jan: Yeah. When you were a kid, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Hilary: Well, from my earliest memories, I loved the water. So I thought that I was going to be some sort of a marine biologist. But then I think politically got really aligned with wanting to be involved with more kind of liberatory things or things that were helpful to people. My dad's a lawyer, so if you asked me when I was a teenager, I would have told you absolutely not.

Jan: And I wasn't going to be a teacher either. Yeah.

Hilary: And so my dad was really proud when I went to law school and passed the bar exam, although I've never practiced. So I fell more into the line of work that I do now, direct services with survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and got my social work degree because that more kind of aligned with how I wanted to reach out and help folks from a marine biologist to a social worker.

Jan: But you did get your law degree. What were you intending to do with that?

Hilary: So when I lived in California, I really wanted to be a landlord and tenant attorney. I wanted to work around tenants' rights and fair housing for all.

Jan: What motivated you?

Hilary: I have been involved with movements to support and end houselessness for a long time. So around that same age of high school, I started doing a group called food not bombs with my friends. And they're like autonomous groups all around the country, but they basically glean food from supermarkets and cook it and feed it to folks. And so I just had been involved with unhoused communities for a long time.

Jan: And that's when you started being a foodie?

Hilary: Yeah, I guess it would be. Well, yeah, because when you get, like, a big old box of vegetables that don't quite go together and you have to figure out how to serve it to people, it's kind of a fun puzzle. So, yeah, I guess that might be. My dad is also really a good cook and a foodie as well, so I carry that as well as the lawyer with him.

Jan: And are you still, like, around here locally? Are you involved with houseless?

Hilary: Yeah. So I volunteered for years at the Astoria Warming Center and worked with folks that were on the board there for some times as a consultant, kind of on top of the work that I do. And then the first job that I took at the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence was housing based. So it was like a HUD funded position where I worked around the country to try to work with housing systems and the domestic and sexual violence systems to help them to collaborate more, to make housing more accessible to survivors.

Jan: Yeah.

Hilary: So I did that first before stepping into my position now where I work with executive directors of boards and leadership of nonprofits.

Jan: So you're not doing as much people.

Hilary: Yeah. So when I worked at the harbor and then Cardvo was where I worked in Corvallis, I was a direct service provider, and my passion was shelter I loved working in shelter and just getting to kind of provide those much needed services and connecting with people in a homey environment. Now that I'm at the state level, I don't do any direct service provision. I just provide systems work and technical assistance and training. It's good when you do those direct services for a long time, you get burnt out. Yeah. So I was pretty crispy and found a way to continue to work in the industry I'm passionate about, but be a little bit more sustainable for myself and be able to have a family and different things like that.

Jan: What were some of the things that led you to burnout?

Hilary: Let's see. Well, when I was here with the harbor, I started as an advocate and ended up as the director of services. And I was able to support the agency through two executive turnovers. And executive turnovers are always hard, even when they're really well thought out. And so there was a period of time, I think, in just kind of helping everyone to hold everything together. Where I was on call, I think, for, like, six months straight. So a lot of that 24 hours being available.

Jan: And it's crisis.

Hilary: It's crisis. The heaviness of the work. I mean, you're meeting people after they've experienced violence and really supporting them through that, and that's hard. There's that secondary trauma and stress that's associated with that. But what's cool is that now in my new position, I get to train organizations on healthy organizational culture and self-care and organizational care and ways to help advocates stay away from being burnt out. So I get to kind of take my experience and apply it in a way that can help others to not maybe get as burnt out as I did.

Jan: Do you think Clatsop County has enough resources for women or families that are in violence or that have. How are we set up on a one to ten scale? Where would you feel like we fed in? I don't know. Or is that a good way to do that?

Hilary: No. I think every community has their struggles. Right. And seeing how different communities all around the state address violence is interesting. I can't speak highly enough of the harbor. I love the folks that are worked there. I get to train them. I get to work with them. I consider them. My mean, I know that Clatsop County is one of the highest per capita counties for homelessness, right. And so I think that one of the biggest things that survivors need is housing and survivors of sexual violence. And if you talk to most women who are unhoused, they will have survived one or two of those types of violence. And so I think that we need to really focus on housing first and getting folks into housing, and then they're able to kind of stabilize out of crisis and connect for other services. I know that when I was doing direct services at the harbor, that was one of the hardest things when our shelter was full, what to do with folks when they needed to flee violence.

Jan: So what's the answer to that? Lots of affordable housing and, like, building more? Or how do you see in a practical way, how do you see that happening?

Hilary: There's a lot of different models for it. I mean, it's hard in Astoria, right, because we are limited in where we can build and what we can do. I guess I would say looking at when we do build new housing, can we have set aside units that are affordable? I know that Portland's doing that a little bit. And of course, things that work for big cities don't always work for small communities. But I wonder if we could look, know a certain amount of subsidized housing within new builds or things like, know, it's, it's so hard here because of the tourism industry and the use of how we use places. Folks who are working can't find housing. So then you think of folks who are fleeing with just their clothes on their backs. How are they going to find housing and kind of get back up and started as hard?

Jan: Well, it seems to me that there needs to be some other subsidizing mechanism in place as well, because even with building new things, your materials are not cheap anymore and labor is not cheap anymore. And so there is going to be a baseline. It's not going to be houses for $80,000 anymore. You're not going to find that anywhere or 150,000 or 200,000. So that makes it really.

Hilary: Yeah, it really does. And I think, I mean, I think sometimes I think we need to even look at our housing models, right? Like look at more multi-unit homes or not smaller. I mean, Astoria, we're kind of more the model of the smaller family homes. But like Southern California, you look at these huge homes that people build, and for a single family, it's really hard to kind of wrap your head around how so many people can live in those huge homes with, and then there are people who can't even get an apartment. So that's really hard. I do know that I think that you kind of just hit the nail on the head that it almost seems like nonprofits and funders need to get step into a different realm of development. And I know that some are, but we had an influx of funding from HUD that kind of trickled down through to the harbor and CCA. And I know that what people have said is that even when they have subsidized housing, like vouchers or different money to get folks apartments here in Cotsup county, there's not even the apartments to get right. So we do have to look at a different model of creating those apartments or creating the know for folks tiny homes. Yeah, maybe. Although it's kind of hard to think of like tiny homes to me. Seems like almost another shelter model, at least the ones that I've seen them create for houselessness. I've seen some really beautiful, tiny homes that people could live in forever. But when people present them as the answer, I get a little bit weary because it seems like it's just like uncongregated shelter. It's not sustainable for people or something that I think a lot of people would want to live in for a long time. But I don't know, I don't have all the answers.

Jan: They were living out in the woods.

Hilary: Absolutely.

Jan: It is sheltered. Yes.

Hilary: Absolutely. I mean, there are still many days that I wake up in Brownsmead and wonder what dumb luck happened to get me here. I love it here so much.

Jan: Well, it is beautiful here. There's no doubt about it. Even if it's cloudy, it's the center of the universe. Exactly. I love living on the water, just having the slew out here and the sunshine and the sparkles. Even when it froze, the whole thing was frozen. And the ducks are walking across the top of it. Lots of wildlife.

Hilary: Oh, my gosh.

Jan: Birds.

Hilary: Yeah. I stepped out of the grange the other day during the lasagna feed and I was chasing around my son. And those moments where you hear the wings flapping before you see the geese. The next thing you know, the whole, it's black above you and it's just geese. In those moments, you can't help but stop and just look up and be in awe and enjoy.

Jan: Yeah.

Hilary: Amazing. And I never really got to, I have never been around that much waterfowl before living here. And they're fascinating.

Jan: It is fascinating. There's so many different kinds. That's why I love having a bird feeder, because you just see different ones that all congregate. And the thing that's amazing is, to me, is they don't care what brand you are. You're just, everybody come and eat. It's right here. And we're all going to enjoy. We're not cut chase each other off. We're all going to work together. And just like, as long as you're.

Hilary: Not a squirrel, right, then you're still clear.

Jan: Right? Yeah. But it's so interesting.

Hilary: It is.

Jan: Yeah, that's really pretty. So part of that then, part of your background with tenant law and whatever just segues into your concern with that as well.

Hilary: Yeah, I mean, it's interesting because oftentimes in my job, so I went to law school and I'm not practicing as a lawyer, and I was kind of like, oh, is that a waste? And you never know where life's going to take you. But this job that I'm in currently is kind of this perfect synthesis of all of my education and life experience and things that I've been drawn to. If you had asked for someone to tailor a position for me, I feel like I'm in the right place. You need kind of a legal mind to be able to think about funding and funders and work within systems. But I've done the direct services. I've worked with the folks on many different levels. And so I have a lot of experience and comfort with talking about what it means to provide direct services to.

Jan: And it's just good to have administrators that have had feet on the ground.

Hilary: Absolutely.

Jan: You have a total different perspective that you bring to the table.

Hilary: Yeah, absolutely. I think that, oh, it should be.

Jan: This way or it should be. And you don't really know what the reality of what that is.

Hilary: Yeah, absolutely. I think that that's actually a part of my job is trying to identify means by which folks who start off as advocates can step into leadership roles and can develop the skill set to go from advocacy to leadership. And so that's been a really interesting thing to look at.

Jan: Here's a question. Some of the women who have been in domestic violence, have you ever trained any of them to step into this other role of being advocates or to work in a field or in some aspect?

Hilary: Yeah, I mean, so it's interesting, right? Because our movement, like the anti-violence movement and particularly anti domestic and sexual violence movement in the US, was a grassroots movement. So it was folks who had survived kind of starting the movement. And so the majority of folks that, you know, that step into the role have organically done that. Like, I would say that the majority of folks that I have worked with in this field are survivors themselves to some capacity and are drawn to the work. So touching on a little bit about what we talked about around self-care and burnout. That's more of the way that it seems like we help to prepare folks, because when you're someone that comes with a history of experiencing domestic or sexual violence, your ability to burn out is much higher. You have experienced the crisis and the trauma firsthand. It makes you an amazing advocate and, you know what folks have experienced, and there can be that peer-to-peer kind of relationship, but you do have to do a lot of extra work to make sure that you're able to maintain in the role for a long time. So rather than having to kind of train or entice people into it, I think they come naturally, and we have to find ways that the systems cannot burn them out. Right. Yeah.

Jan: And I think it's really great that there is so much education now on trauma informed practices, especially in education where it has not been before. I mean, it opens your eyes to, oh, maybe that's why they're acting out. Maybe that's.

Hilary: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that advocates from our movement have been a big part of that. Right. A lot of understanding how they reacted to trauma and experiences and really breaking it down for people and really getting to that crux of trauma informed care of not what's wrong with you, but what happened to you. Right.

Jan: And do you work with legislature?

Hilary: I don't in my role, but the coalition does. So we have a lobbyist, and she's there up in Salem working, and then we work to bring the voices of our member programs to her to make sure that we're lobbying for the. Right.

Jan: Yeah. Yeah. Sounds like you're in the right spot.

Hilary: Yeah, I enjoy. It's just there's so many different systems. I mean, that's the beauty of domestic violence advocacy, is that I like to think of them as, like, they just wear so many hats. Right. So a lot of agencies will be so secluded into just one system. Right. Like you go to a housing system and they can help you navigate that, or the hospital can help you navigate this. And the advocates kind of know a little bit about how to navigate every system because they have to, because they're there to support survivors and walking through any system that they need to. And so there's so many lenses by which you can apply it. So it's like, I love to go and talk to different systems and talk to them about how we do the work and then see the way it crosses over or talk about trauma informed care and the way that it shows up in our work and how can they incorporate that into their work. I love the intersection.

Jan: I was working at coast pregnancy clinic. And we had Jessica come out there just to talk about trauma and how some of these gals that are coming out that way would be, how can we make it happen better for them or understand better?

Hilary: Absolutely.

Jan: Work with them, et cetera. Same thing.

Hilary: Yeah. And one thing that the harbor that's doing that's amazing and that a lot of our member programs have stepped into is know it's one thing to provide direct services and always be there for folks who've experienced violence, but they're stepping into the realm of prevention now, too, which is really cool, which is huge. Yeah. And the harbor is doing great work with youth and kind of talking about what do healthy relationships look like? What is.

Jan: That was a big focus over there. That is same thing. How can we prevent this being a situation to begin with? Let's talk about what does a healthy relationship look like? What are you looking for? What makes it. Just all aspects of it.

Hilary: Yeah. And that's something that's really necessary when you're doing the direct service work. I think that's why I ended up in systems work, because at the same time that you're helping people, you want to know that there is something out there trying to stop this from happening to people. Right. And so if you can have the balance of kind of both of those things, like doing a little bit of prevention work and doing direct service, it's so much more sustainable, in my opinion, knowing that you're trying to stop it or that it's a movement. You're trying to create change.

Jan: Yeah, it's a different culture. You're creating a different culture.

Hilary: Yeah, absolutely.

Jan: Different perspective of what.

Hilary: Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of what we do when it comes to domestic and sexual violence prevention comes from an anti-oppressive lens. So a lot of abuse is folks leveraging a privilege that they have or the idea that one group of people or one gender of people has more worth or should act in certain ways. And so a lot of what we do in our funding and with the member programs is really breaking that down as a means of prevention. Right. So power dynamics. And who chooses to leverage what power over what types of people? And it's really interesting.

Jan: Yeah. And even with developing or talking about relationships or what are the red flags to look for of things that. No, when that happens, that's not okay.

Hilary: Yeah, absolutely. And looking at the why, why does someone think it's okay to act that way? Why do they feel that they are entitled to have power over this person?

Jan: Right. Little psychology.

Hilary: Yeah, totally.

Jan: Is that us? What would be your biggest vision right now?

Hilary: Biggest vision in terms of your job.

Jan: And what you're doing? I would love to see.

Hilary: Yeah, I would love to see us fund more grassroots movements. So, like talking about the domestic and sexual violence movement nationally, in the US, it was a grassroots movement, and it was people just seeing a need and meeting it. And, of course, over the years, we have created funding sources and kind of the professionalization of it. And with that comes a lot of restrictions and slow movement to be able to meet needs as they change. I would love for funders and folks who think about nonprofits and how they function in our society to think a lot more about less restricted money getting into the hands of folks who are doing the work and knowing that everything is interconnected. Right. So when we talk about prevention, one of the biggest things that you can do to prevent sexual violence for women or folks of marginalized identities who are living on the streets is to get them housed. Right? So if we see that all as interconnected, let's take away all the red tape and just make that happen instead of kind of compartmentalizing and siloing the work that we do and restricting funding so that people have to jump through hoops in so many different ways to make that happen. So I'd really love to just see kind of a return to a grassroots ethos, you know what I mean? Like communities being able to do what they need to do to meet the needs of their communities.

Jan: Yeah.

Hilary: Mutual aid is a wonderful kind of example of that, people stepping up to do it. But I wonder how we could get more of our tax money behind that.

Jan: Yeah.

Hilary: Which means less funding of other things.

Jan: And lobbying for it and making it up. There's got to be other ways to do it.

Hilary: Yeah. So interesting. I feel like the post Covid world has made us have to get more creative and rethink, like, rethink how we do things. In a lot of ways, society looks like. Yeah, in a lot of ways. And I'm really starting as someone who is supporting a lot of nonprofits all over the state, particularly rural nonprofits. I just don't know if the nonprofit model, particularly the board model, is functional or sustainable for small, like finding people who are tapped into the cause, who have the skill sets necessary to oversee. I mean, we've seen it in Clatsop County a lot. Right. It's hard to find board members and keep board members and have folks who are able to kind of understand fiscal things that go along with the nonprofit as well as the direct services. And that's what I've been doing a lot of training on with boards through my role is fiscal responsibilities and all of the kind of nitty gritty of board service, and it's hard. And I wonder if there's a different model that could serve us better. I don't have a lot of answers. I'm still in the creative wondering.

Jan: Well, that's okay, but that's where it all starts. That creative wondering leads you to the. Maybe a fix it. Yeah, totally possible fix it.

Hilary: Yeah, totally. Because I've just seen so many people who care so deeply about their community also be burnt out and have really harsh experiences with trying to be on boards. All of us who are well meaning, who have joined a board have a story about, like, that was tough, right?

Jan: Yeah, that's the truth. Yeah. Well, so in your spare time, your fun time, I hear that you're doing a lot of cooking for the.

Hilary: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely. The grange is, like, such an amazing community spot in Brownsmead, and I'm really excited to be able to partner with the Brownsmead Farmer Club and come up with events and bring people together in that space. And we have four events a year now. Crawfish boil, lasagna feed, chili feed, and corn feed, with, of course, the corn feed being the longest running. And it brings people out here to Brownsmead to hang out, and I love it.

Jan: Socialize and do whatever.

Hilary: And we started having the flats play at most of them, and that's, I think, amazing.

Jan: Which, of course, they're Brownsmead. Yeah, they originated here.

Hilary: Yeah, absolutely. But I try to do other little things, too. I love that building and I love that space. And we want to find ways to just make it more back to kind of being a community space. Right. Like, not just fundraisers, but do folks need access for kids to be inside or during the winter? What should we do to have it be serving the community?

Jan: Yeah, I don't know if they're still doing it, but years ago, when my kids were middle school teens, they were down there playing basketball and just in soccer, soccer stuff, just to get them running and out of the rain.

Hilary: Yeah, we've been doing some roller skating down there, and that's been really fun. So I used to play roller derby, so I really enjoy roller skating. And so a couple of my friends have come to visit and we've roller skated, and I've gotten groups together, and we think about how fun that would be to kind of just have a wheels night. Bring your wheels.

Jan: My daughter Emily did that for a little while. Yeah, roller derby. All right, well, anything else you'd like to.

Hilary: Just. It's a privilege to be on this podcast.

Jan: I think.

Hilary: Clatsop County has so many amazing women doing amazing things, and I'm privileged to be sitting next to one and be amongst the voices that get to talk on this podcast. So thanks for creating it.

Jan: I'm glad that you are on here and sharing your amazingness with us as well.

Hilary: Thank you.