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YWCA CEO: Poverty, Homelessness and Trauma

Op/Ed By Jean Carroll
YWCA of Rochester & Monroe County President & CEO



One out of every four homeless women is homeless because of violence committed against her, and over 92 percent of homeless mothers have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse during their lifetime, according to Family Homelessness Facts.

As a result, the YWCA of Rochester and Monroe County provides a continuum of housing for women and families, from emergency shelter to long-term affordable apartments.

The YWCA housed 113 children in 2014.

In 2015, the YWCA housed more than 300 children.

This is an increase of more than 130 percent. These changes are in direct response to the report issued in late 2012 called “Homeless Resolution Strategy, Rochester and Monroe County.”

By expanding our housing program two years ago, the YWCA is now meeting the critical housing needs of families in the Rochester community.

Previously, many of these families with children were being housed in local hotels.

We are now able to move at-risk families into a safe environment much more quickly, and to address the emotional impact of what led to the homeless situation.

Traumatic events, such as abuse and neglect, growing up with a parent who struggles with mental illness or substance dependence, or living in an unsafe neighborhood can impact development, affecting the areas of the brain that regulate impulse control, executive functioning, and emotional and fear responses.

Today, science has demonstrated that trauma is much more common than we first understood, which can produce long-term effects that impact how a person views and responds to the world.

Trauma causes and sustains disadvantages over a lifetime. And, without addressing underlying trauma, efforts to combat poverty—through job creation, early education, adult mentoring efforts, changes in systems—will not be as effective or sustainable.

By understanding the pervasive nature of trauma, we can promote environments of healing and recovery, to build on the resilience within people, and avoid practices and services which may inadvertently re-traumatize individuals.

The YWCA has implemented principals of trauma-informed care, including promoting a safe environment, respecting cultural differences, and promoting choice and autonomy.

One example of trauma-informed training is a program at the YWCA called “Windows Between Worlds.”

The program uses art as a healing tool, to empower and transform individuals who have been impacted by violence and trauma.

Residents not only participate in the program, but some also partner with staff to co-facilitate the group.

In exchange for their co-facilitation, residents receive a gift card that can be used to off-set any expenses they may have.

The YWCA also helps write letters of recommendation for the co-facilitators, which are used to help promote a woman’s chances for employment. It’s a creative way to increase job skills, and to promote wellness.

With over half of our city’s children living in poverty, what is happening to our families is devastating.

The YWCA has developed a culture for our residents and staff that is “trauma informed,” because recognizing and addressing trauma must be at the very core of anti-poverty efforts, if we are to be successful.

By expanding our focus to provide more than a roof over your head, and provide trauma-informed care, we see encouraging results through which we ultimately hope to impact the persistent poverty within our city.

These programs are a good start, but we can do more, and so can you.

This year, the Week Without Violence will take place from October 17 – 21. During that week, the YWCA will be collaborating with other like-minded organizations to share information, elevate stories, talk with policymakers, and get out the vote with a common goal in mind: together, we can end gender-based violence.

Stay tuned to the YWCA USA website,, for more information.

As Beverly Gooden, the speaker at our 10th annual Empowering Women’s Luncheon indicated, there are many reasons “#Why I Stayed” in an abusive relationship.

She mentions the physical threats of abuse, the apologies, the promises to never do it again, and believing that love conquers all.

You can help Beverly create a Pathway to Independence (from abuse) for more women, by telling your Congressional and Senate representatives to co-sponsor the SAFE Act.

No one should have to choose between their livelihood and their health, their family, or their safety.

Yet, this is the reality for far too many women and families.

Currently, workers can use the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a sick or injured spouse, but cannot use it to seek protection from an abuser. This causes survivors to lose nearly eight million days of paid work each year, the equivalent of 32,000 full-time jobs.

The SAFE Act allows survivors to take job protected safe leave to receive medical attention, seek legal assistance, attend court proceedings, and get help with safety planning. The SAFE Act also protects employees from being fired because they were harassed by their abuser, or sought assistance related to their abuse.

Working together, we can all fulfill the YWCA mission of empowering women and families to envision and achieve a successful future.

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