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YWCA's mission: Helping survivors of domestic violence

Regional nonprofit offers shelter, legal help and crisis counseling to victims

For victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, YWCA Silicon Valley can be many different things. It can be the tool that pulls women and children out of an abusive household like a zip line, or it can be the shelter that prevents displaced families from sleeping on the street after fleeing violence.

In addition to a roof over the heads of those needing to escape a violent situation, the nonprofit provides residents throughout the region, including in the North County, with legal support, immigration services, child care and mental health counseling -- a comprehensive network of services critical to helping people in dire situations.

"The YWCA is one door to many solutions," said YWCA Silicon Valley CEO Tanis Crosby. "We are the rape crisis center for Mountain View, for our community. We are here for survivors of sexual assault, and we are also working in really close partnership to prevent domestic violence."

YWCA is one of seven nonprofit organizations that benefit from the Voice's annual Holiday Fund. Donations to the fund are divided equally among the nonprofits and are administered by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation at no cost, so 100 percent of contributions go to the recipients.

Close to 40 percent of women in California experience physical violence from their partner in their lifetime, according to the nonprofit -- a situation that forces many survivors to make a difficult decision to either endure the abusive relationship or face homelessness. YWCA cites multiple studies showing that from 22 to 57 percent of homeless women are on the streets as a direct result of domestic violence.

YWCA operates a confidential emergency shelter to offer a sanctuary for families fleeing domestic violence, aiding 190 survivors over the 2016-17 year. But the demand far outweighs the available beds in Santa Clara County, and 2,300 requests have to be turned down each year, according to the nonprofit.

For the women who do get into the shelters, however, Crosby said a growing number are able to get back on their feet and find stable housing, thanks in part to rental subsidies provided by the nonprofit. Just a few years ago, only 7 percent of people leaving YWCA's shelters had secured an affordable place to live. That number has since tripled, Crosby said.

"Yes, there is still a big need," she said. "Yes, we are still turning away far too many people because our shelters are too full, but we are also seeing significant traction, and that's because of donor support."

YWCA services also include a 24-hour crisis support hotline, child care support exceeding $330,000 each year, and mental health counseling and clinical therapy for parents and children experiencing trauma from domestic violence; legal advice, and immigration and social services are provided through the nonprofit's North County Family Justice Center.

The cascade of services often work in tandem. Crosby recalled one survivor who called the support hotline reporting that she was experiencing domestic violence, only to reveal she was also a victim of human trafficking. She received immediate support, crisis counseling and help filing for a T-Visa, allowing her to retain legal status in the country, she said.

Rather than wait for victims to come forward seeking help, YWCA works with local police departments to identify survivors of domestic violence. Crosby said law enforcement agencies throughout the county agreed to send in redacted police reports that involve a survivor of domestic violence, allowing YWCA to contact the victim directly. A total of 1,444 survivors were helped in 2016-17 through this method.

Among the domestic violence survivors helped by YWCA, 89 percent are female, 80 percent are people of color and 84 percent make $35,000 or less each year, according to the nonprofit's 2016-17 annual report.

Crosby said all of YWCA's offerings converge to serve the same three goals: ending racism and violence, providing "real solutions" to homelessness for victims of domestic violence, and ending what she calls the "education and prosperity gap" that women face in the workforce -- particularly in high-paying tech jobs. The ambitious goals also come with huge increases in funding as well, with the nonprofit's annual revenue doubling to $10.2 million over the last two years.

"We are absolutely on a mission to create real and lasting change," Crosby said.

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