New program helps domestic violence, sex assault victims locate shelter

Local

Summer Stephan

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A national online program that locates available shelter space for victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault is being expanded into San Diego County, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

Shelter requests will be forwarded to an online network of organizations across the county — dubbed the SoCal Safe Shelter Collaborative — that will locate available shelter beds among the participating organizations.

The District Attorney’s Office says 25 organizations have signed on to the program so far, “with additional groups joining each week,” and nearly 400 safe shelter beds available throughout the system at present.

The program will narrow down the list of shelters with possible availability within 30 minutes or less, expediting a process that can typically take up to several days for victims in immediate need.

Finding available shelter space has been additionally complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced shelters to reduce capacity in order to provide social distancing or close their doors and transition entirely to telephone or online services.

“In our work to serve survivors of human trafficking, locating safe shelter is one of the greatest challenges faced by service providers,” said Ginger Shaw of California Against Slavery. “We feel optimistic that this new program will make that process much faster and easier for survivors and the staff working to help them.”

Officials from the DA’s Office say trained staff will collect relevant information from survivors, including whether they have minor children living with them or disabilities that require special accommodation. If no shelter openings are available, a SafeNight hotel app is also available, allowing shelters to quickly fundraise for emergency hotel stays.

“Making calls to find a shelter or support may be especially difficult for victims living with their abusers during the ongoing pandemic,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said. “If they need safe shelter and are ready to leave, we need to be prepared to make that a smooth process. We never want to leave a victim on their own to make endless calls to locate shelter, or worse, to come up with no options.”

Stephan said the program will also prevent victims from being forced to recount their stories of abuse innumerable times in their attempts to find shelter space.

“By reducing the number of calls a survivor makes for shelter, we are hoping to mitigate re-traumatization by the system,” Stephan said. “Every time a survivor must re-tell their story, they are reliving that abuse.”

A list of safe shelter referral programs is available at preventdv1.org/socal-safe-shelter-collaborative. Victims can get in touch with staff from these organizations, which will use the SoCal Safe Shelter Collaborative program to find available shelter space.

A victim assistance number is also available at 619-531-4041.

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