Behind the Curtain at a Crisis Center

There are, currently, four crisis centers in Sofia, Bulgaria. Two specialize in providing for the homeless, and two — for children and women, victims of domestic violence.

According to a 2015 Methodological Guide to Provide Social Service Crisis Center report, made by The Social Assistance Act and Child Protection Service in Bulgaria, a crisis center “is a complex of social services for children and persons,victims of violence, trafficking or other forms of exploitation, which are provided for up to 6 months.”

St. Petka is the only crisis center for women and children, victims of domestic violence functioning in Sofia and the region of Sofia. It is operated by Animus Association Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that provides psychological and social support for women and children victims of violence. The Crisis Center functions 24/7 and provides safe space, crisis intervention, psychological counseling, social aid, legal counseling and empowerment for victims of violence.

The Crisis Center is led by a coordinator who organizes the work of the social workers and counselors who work directly with the victims. Two staff members (coordinator and one social worker) cover day shifts, while night shifts and weekends are split among five other staff members. The center is funded by the government, through a state subsidy.

The aim of the Center is to provide a safe environment for women and children who are victims of domestic violence or are subjected to human trafficking. Victims are sent to the crisis center from institutions the Department of Child Protection, International Organization of Migrations, the Hot Line and the police.

Ani Kisiova, has been working at St. Petka for over two years. She works as a social worker. For her, receiving the victims is one of the hardest parts of the job. “I have to inquire them about what has happened to them, in order to make their case. Everything has to be documented. As you can guess, few are willing to share. I do what I can, and it’s not easy.”

Accommodation is provided within 6 months. Depending on the severity of the cases, victims either leave the center on their own, if their situation is deemed safe, or get transferred to other institutions for further aid.

While in the facility and under the care of the workers there are certain rules to be considered. The address of the Center and its phone number must be kept secret. Physical and verbal abuse is not permitted, and smoking in the building is forbidden.

The Center’s capacity is 8 people. Everyone shares a bathroom, a living room and a kitchen. Food and other basic necessities are provided by the Center, and if needed, it providing clothes and diapers for babies, and purchasing medicine.

Working mostly the night shifts, Kisiova shares. “A typical night of mine consists of taking care of the people, regulate their relationships, make sure everyone is on the same page and there is no conflict.”

If it happens to be a quiet night, Kisiova sits on a chair, prepares tea and pulls out her book. Despite the “staff bed” in the living room, Kisiova doesn’t dare lay down. “I know I’m allowed to but I can’t imagine sleeping on the job. What if something happens?”

Kisiova believes she has changed in the course of the two years she’s worked in the center. “The world is not as black and white as I thought it to be. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, just because. The unfairness of it is crushing. I just hope I’m making a difference.”