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Opinion: We must help survivors quickly find safe shelter when fleeing dangerous relationships.

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Marroquin is an analyst for the San Diego County Attorney’s Office and a member of the San Diego Domestic Violence Council leadership team. She lives in San Diego.

In December, a woman hiding in a motel room after fleeing her abusive partner called a victim advocate at the district attorney’s office and tearfully explained to him that she had been strangled and beaten and her partner had taken his cell phone. She was afraid he would find her and kill her. She only had money to pay for a night in a motel and then she would find herself homeless. Almost immediately, the victims’ attorney found a safe haven for the woman, using San Diego County’s first live shelter bed locator system – the SoCal Safe Shelter Collaborative.

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Since its launch last October, Safe Shelter Collaborative has successfully helped survivors of abuse find safe shelter in minutes rather than days, with more than 150 survivors served by the program in its first year. Even before the pandemic, there weren’t enough emergency beds to meet the needs of this vulnerable population and the pandemic has increased pressure on shelters, with reduced ability to prevent the spread of the virus. It was then that the San Diego County Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and the San Diego Domestic Violence Council associated with Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup, to bring the Safe Shelter Collaborative program to Southern California.

Safe shelters are located in confidential locations, with comprehensive services for survivors fleeing dangerous relationships of abuse and exploitation. Often, survivors have children, which increases the need for quality trauma-focused services. When a person is ready and able to leave an abusive relationship, we have a responsibility as a community to ensure that their families can find a safe place to stay.

There are now 32 organizations and counting have signed up to the program. There are nine shelters and over 300 beds for survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault. Staff can log into the system to identify available shelters that match the survivor’s needs. Organizations register to participate in the program and can then access this secure web-based system. Those providing referrals through the system include staff from social services, healthcare, behavioral health, homelessness, criminal justice, tribal organizations and others.

Leaving an abusive or exploitative relationship can increase the danger to survivors and their children. This includes when the survivor takes steps to leave the relationship or even in the weeks or months after leaving. Access to safety planning with trained survivor-centered organizations is essential during these stages. Organizations that enroll in this program are committed to providing comprehensive support and training to better serve survivors.

Previously, organizations either provided a list of shelter phone numbers for survivors to call or helped survivors call each of them. The goal of the new system is to reduce the number of calls survivors have to make to find safe shelter and prevent survivors from having to rehearse their traumatic stories.

When our local Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention Councils first met to address the shelter crisis, we realized we were in new territory. Although we serve all survivors, the needs and goals of survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking are different.

After extensive planning, we were able to generate a streamlined, survivor-centered, trauma-informed plan.

The average bed availability response time is less than four minutes, with a possible match in nearly 80% of requests. Most of the program participants are accompanied by minor children. A match is made when staff using the Safe Shelter Collaborative system enter details of the survivor, such as the description of the type of abuse and whether the person is pregnant or has children. Participating shelters receive an alert and respond if they have availability to meet the survivor’s needs. The survivor is then supported in the follow-up with these shelters.

San Diego County has an incredible network of collaborative organizations and councils working to improve the lives of survivors of abuse and violence. We take every dollar that goes to survivors and stretch it as much as possible. Next on our list is to increase the number of safe places for survivors, such as emergency beds, transitional and permanent housing, and hotel stays to meet needs when no accommodation is available. is available. No survivor should ever leave an abusive situation and end up on the streets.


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