During the week of November 11-18, we have the opportunity to bring attention to the plight of homelessness and hunger. A meaningful way to shed light on these challenges is by highlighting Empower Yolo’s modest yet impactful KE safehouse, dedicated to supporting homeless victims of crime.

Many community members know about Empower Yolo’s Wallace and Vannucci emergency safehouse for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. However, some may not be aware that Empower Yolo runs, in partnership with the Yolo County’s District Attorney’s (DA’s) Office, a second, smaller emergency safehouse focused on crime victims.  Through this partnership the DA’s Office provides program coordination and Victim Services staff, and Empower Yolo provides case management and advocacy.

“Homelessness is a crisis that has now become part of almost every community,” says Cecilia Lopez, Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, Children’s Advocacy Center Director/ KE & XC Programmatic Point of Contact.

“As one of the most vulnerable populations within Yolo County, the homeless need help. Statistics show that almost half of all homeless individuals have been victims of a crime at some point in their lives living on the streets. As the main prosecuting office in Yolo County, it is our mission to pursue truth and justice for victims and our communities with commitment, compassion, courage, and integrity. The KE program offers homeless crime victims not just a safe place to sleep but also a comprehensive plan towards achieving their goals and getting them off the street,” says Lopez.

In 2018, the inception of the KE program was a direct response to the tremendous unmet needs and numbers of homeless crime victims in Yolo County and was designed to focus on those needs with the goals of providing healthy recovery, permanency, safety, and reducing re-victimization.

To address these special needs, the DA’s office became the recipient of the KE program grant from CAL OES and is responsible for management and grant reporting. These funds support Empower Yolo client navigators, who are located at all Empower Yolo offices, to provide individual, survivor-driven, and trauma-informed needs assessments, case management, and advocacy to homeless and home-insecure crime victims throughout Yolo County.

The KE program receives referrals from all local law enforcement agencies, the DA’s Office (Victim Services, MDIC, Child Abduction, and the Reformative Justice Program), Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency, Shores of Hope, community-based organizations, and other partner agencies. Potential clients may also self-refer to the KE Program.

The KE program is unique and supports a specific vulnerable population.  “Individuals who are homeless or home-insecure are more susceptible to being crime victims,” says Lopez.  “Sometimes these same issues cause them to have an inability to access appropriate victim services. Additionally, when these individuals do seek assistance, the professionals responding don’t always have the appropriate training. The KE program addresses all of these issues,” adds Lopez.

Crimes against these individuals may include domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking, theft, physical assault, elder abuse as well as any other crimes.  The KE program staff receives trauma-informed training and are understanding of victim dynamics and the criminal justice system. Together with the victims, KE staff formulates a plan to guarantee participants have access to all the services they need.

Traditionally, when an unhoused individual is a victim of a crime, they are usually referred to the local shelter for safety.  These shelters are not always appropriate as they are not always trauma-informed. Additionally, crime victims who have lived through a recent crime may not always feel safe in a traditional shelter.  Most shelters are offered only to individuals.  The KE program focuses on a client’s unmet needs that traditional shelters do not provide.

The KE program offers an 8-bed confidential safehouse specifically for crime victims. This safehouse offers more privacy than traditional shelters and is staffed by KE program staff. Once the victims are in the safehouse, they meet with KE client navigators who assess their individual needs, including safe/secure housing. Once the assessment is completed, the client navigator and client create a step-by-step plan that will allow the victim to achieve their goals; this may mean safe/secure housing, for others financial independence, therapy, assistance through the criminal process, or financial assistance to get back on their feet after the crime.

“The program goal is that all victims of crime, regardless of circumstances, receive adequate support services in a respectful, trauma-informed manner,” says Lopez.  Empower Yolo’s initial goal is to provide safe and secure emergency shelter to protect victims from further harm and ensure their immediate safety. In addition, client navigators provide trauma-informed care, meaning delivering services with a trauma-informed approach, recognizing and addressing the emotional and psychological impact of victimization.

Empower Yolo’s client navigators are trained to meet the needs of this underserved population.  “Homeless crime victims have special needs that Empower Yolo advocates are specially trained to help meet such as consistent support, security, shelter, and basic needs that we often take for granted,” says Kathryn Krohn, Empower Yolo’s KE Shelter Deputy Director.

The biggest challenges for clients are dealing with “safety, vulnerability, and trauma; mental health issues and medical care, and the stigmatization of being a homeless crime victim,” says Krohn.

KE program services include comprehensive needs assessment (medical care, mental health services, and legal support); permanent housing assistance (securing permanent housing to achieve long-term stability); advocacy and legal support (help navigating legal proceedings); mental health services (therapy and counseling); access to basic resources (food, clothing, hygiene products, medical care, and prescription medications); transportation (to appointments, court appearances, and safehouse locations); empowerment and self-determination (encouragement to set their own goals); education and employment support (provide access to education and employment opportunities); community reintegration (reconnect with communities, families and social networks); reduction of re-victimization (reduce risk by providing safe and stable living environments and support networks); coordination with partner agencies (collaborate with law enforcement, victim services programs, shelters, and mental health providers for holistic approach); and using a client-centered approach (tailor services for unique client circumstances).

The program has been very successful in Yolo County. The KE safehouse is used consistently and often graduates clients who have found stable and safe housing. To date, the KE program has helped 650 individuals in Yolo County who received client navigation, therapy, or housing services. Of the 650 clients 139 resided at the KE shelter. “It is such a joy to see when an unhoused client that has previously struggled with access to services is now back on their feet and living in a safe, secure place,” says Lopez.

Without the partnership with the DA’s Office, this population would be even further marginalized.  “We highly value our partnership with the DA’s Office in implementing and sustaining this program. Collaborating with the DA’s Office brings essential legal and victim support expertise to our program, ensuring crime victims receive the justice and assistance they deserve,” says Krohn.

Together, this partnership strengthens the program’s comprehensive approach, promoting safety, recovery, permanency, and a reduction in re-victimization for the most vulnerable individuals in Yolo County,” says Krohn.

The community can support the KE safehouse and clients by donating twin bed sheets, towels, washcloths, non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies, and toiletry items, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, and toothpaste any time at our main office in Woodland or Resource Center in Davis during office hours.

Join Empower Yolo November 11-18 as we observe homeless and hunger awareness week.  Empower Yolo acknowledges the crucial contributions the DA’s Office is making in partnership with our agency.  The combined dedicated efforts serve as a testament to the transformative power of community support and sustainable solutions, creating a better future for those facing homelessness and hunger.

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