Spotlight on Grants: Sulzbacher Center

Since embarking on its comprehensive needs assessment six years ago, the Women’s Giving Alliance has partnered with the Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless to bring critically-needed mental health resources to homeless women and girls of our community.

Over that time, WGA funding has helped hundreds of women overcome many issues facing the homeless, chief among them, restoration of the self-confidence needed to regain self-sustainability.

Donna Kells, Women's and Girls Intensive Case Manager, speaks with a client.
Donna Kells, Women’s and Girls Intensive Case Manager, speaks with a client.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Homelessness Resource Center claims that “over 92% of homeless women have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse in their lifetime” and approximately two-thirds have a history of domestic violence.  Compared with stably housed low-income women, homeless women have “three times the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (36%) and about 50% have experienced a major depression since becoming homeless.”

Recognizing that a large percentage of its women and girl residents have traumatic pasts which impair their ability to complete Sulzbacher’s Pathway Case Management program, the Center turned to WGA to fund an Intensive Case Manager position at the Center. The goal was to create a Trauma-Informed culture that provides on-site crisis management and mental health services to those most in need.  The program has achieved phenomenal success.

One specific client-who has given us permission to share her story- is Jane:

Jane came to the Center several months ago when she found herself homeless due to a domestic violence situation. She is in her mid- fifties, has some college, no arrests or substance abuse issues, and had never been homeless before.

When Jane came into the Center she was immediately identified by her Case Manager as someone who would benefit from the trauma focused “Survivors Club” led by the Center’s WGA Intensive Case Manager, Donna Kells.  Donna is a LMHC with extensive experience working with trauma victims.

Although Jane was vocal early on in the group by providing support to her peers, she was very reluctant to share her own personal story.  After a few weeks, Jane came to Donna and asked if she could enter into individual therapy.

Through that therapy Jane shared that she had lost her son.  She also opened up about her many years of extensive domestic violence and abandonment, including verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Jane had a very hard time recognizing her own strengths, as her self-esteem had been crushed by the years of trauma she had endured.

Eventually, Jane did share her passion for music.  As a result, staff encouraged her to pursue this passion and she was able to get a job as a part time music teacher, which gave her much joy.  However, a few months into her counseling, Jane received some terrifying news.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer and needed immediate treatment.  Jane and Donna processed this news together; she was scared, not sure she could undergo treatment living in a shelter, and concerned that she would not be able to continue her new work that she so loved.  Jane was also very nervous about sharing this information with her trauma-informed ‘survivors club.’ She was afraid to lean on others for support because so many individuals had let her down in her life. But eventually she did share the news.

The support she received was tremendous. Jane revealed that it ‘felt good to share her journey with other women’.  She began treatment for her cancer and was able to continue working. Since then she has finished her radiation treatments, has doubled her work hours and has opened a savings account. A large percentage of her paycheck goes into savings; this is critical because impulse control and overspending had been one of her unhealthy coping mechanisms in the past.

When asked what motivates her, Jane replies, “You can lay around feeling sorry for yourself or you can do something.” She revealed that she does not feel she could have gotten through everything without the support she received from the staff at the Center, the peers in her group and of course her students and music.  Jane is currently seeking affordable housing options and should be moving out on her own very soon.

Jane is just one of hundreds of women whose life trajectory has been changed due to the leadership and generosity of the WGA.