Sep 30, 2019
By Gina Raith
The Mother* got into the car and drove. To get away from him. To flee 13 years of abuse, which was all she knew. Psychological and economic power and control (for years subtle but over time, more pronounced) and, most recently, physical. When he strangled her in front of their eleven-year-old daughter, she knew she could abide it no more.
She secretly packed their bags, knowing that if he found the suitcases, he would go off—and possibly try to kill her.
Because she remembered. This is what her father did to her mother while she had watched from the closet.
She waited until well after dark to drive away. Away to a county (ours, Sonoma) where she knew no one. Her daughter cried softly in the back seat.
“Everything will be okay,” the Mother assured her, knowing her words rang hollow.
With nowhere to go, she parked at Target before sunrise. She had $112 in her bank account.
After a few hours of fitful, faux-sleep, she went to the Family Justice Center in Santa Rosa. She had read somewhere that they might be able to help.
As the Homeless Outreach Coordinator for the Homeless Outreach Team for the Victim Services Division of the Sonoma County District Attorney, I serve victims of crime who are experiencing homelessness.
An editor or grammarian might ask: Why not just say “homeless person,” rather than “person experiencing homelessness”?
Because homeless isn’t their identity. It’s a circumstance in which they find themselves, for reasons often out of their control. Some 65% of our clients are victims of domestic violence.
They are predominantly wives and mothers who find themselves without a home because they’ve been isolated by their abuser and abandoned by their friends and family, who often cite their “poor choices.” They are quite possibly addicted to drugs, provided by their abuser, or struggling with mental illness, or both.
When The Mother and her daughter walked through our doors at the Family Justice Center, we had their backs. Thanks to a grant from the California Office of Emergency Services and funding from our partner agencies, Verity and the YWCA, we provide immediate and emergency referrals and relief by way of Safeway and Goodwill vouchers, gas cards, bus passes and, in extraordinary cases, motel stays, to victims of crime experiencing homelessness. We can also enroll them in Coordinated Entry, the program that helps them access shelters, transitional and rapid rehousing programs, and permanent supportive housing.
All of our lives we are told to be brave, and not give in to adversity. But sometimes it takes a spark, a helping hand, to find that resilience.
That day, like most days, our team, along with the District Attorney Advocates and our partner agencies at the Family Justice Center, including Legal Aid, the YWCA, Verity, Sonoma Works, the Council on Aging and Catholic Charities, help, stabilize and make whole victims who have been traumatized, more often than not, by circumstance, not choice.
The Mother was no exception. Her path was not linear. There were setbacks. But she got there – for her and her daughter.
I’m honored to witness the heroines I serve. Their obstacles are real. They are not homeless, but rather, humans experiencing homelessness. I try to remind them: This too shall pass.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. When you see The Mother, and others like her, on the street this month and every month, please look them in the eye and extend a hand.
With an open heart.
* Please note that The Mother and her daughter are composite characters. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.
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