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  • The Center for Victims of Torture

Supportive Housing and Social Services Work Together for Clients in St. Paul

*This article was originally posted on The Center for Victims of Torture website. It was also written by The Center for Victims of Torture. Sarah's partners with CVT to receive referrals for potential residents in need.*


For survivors of torture, access to housing impacts healing. CVT clinicians work to ensure that clients who have survived deeply traumatic experiences have stability and feel safe. Yet, meeting needs for shelter and other basic necessities is difficult in many locations.



“Housing is the number one challenge our clients face in establishing their lives in Minnesota,” said Jill Davidson, targeted case management supervisor and social services lead at CVT’s St. Paul Healing Center. Social work services are part of an interdisciplinary model in many CVT locations, along with mental health counseling and, in some locations, physiotherapy. And when CVT social workers try to arrange shelter for survivors, she said, “There are never enough openings for the people who need them.”


This is where CVT’s partnership with a program called Sarah’s . . . an Oasis for Women comes into play. Sarah’s provides a place to live but much more, with a philosophy of building self-sufficiency and confidence that aligns with the work of CVT’s healing team.


“Sarah’s was always intended to be a healing place for women, not simply a place to live,” said Cheryl Behrent, who has served as director at Sarah’s since 2007. Residents have access to educational opportunities, job training and many other services which are key to the long-term progress the team at Sarah’s helps them achieve. “We understand that many of our residents have ongoing mental health challenges because of past traumas,” Cheryl said. For this reason, Sarah’s team appreciates CVT referrals because the women have clinical care in place to help them be successful. This mutual commitment to ongoing support makes CVT and Sarah’s good partners.


And the partnership is longstanding. According to Cheryl, when Sarah’s opened in 1996, their first client was referred to them by CVT. Because of the mutually supportive paths provided by both programs, that relationship has strengthened and grown over the years. In fact, Cheryl estimates that out of a total of close to 700 residents at Sarah’s, at least 250 have been CVT clients.


Established by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, leaders at Sarah’s knew from the beginning that there was a need for safe and supportive housing among the population of women immigrants living in St. Paul. Likewise, CVT’s social work team continually faces the limited resources available to clients, all of whom are refugees or are seeking asylum. “Asylum-seekers do not qualify for any kind of subsidized housing program regardless of their age, disability, income, etc.” Jill said. “We have clients living in mosques, basements, churches, group homes, homeless shelters, etc. It is such a relief for all of us when one of our housing partners has an opening for our clients who experience so much instability and sub-par living conditions.”


We have clients living in mosques, basements, churches, group homes, homeless shelters, etc. It is such a relief for all of us when one of our housing partners has an opening for our clients who experience so much instability and sub-par living conditions.” -Jill Davidson, social services lead, CVT St. Paul Healing Center

The partnership with Sarah’s has made a big difference for CVT clients. One of the immediate benefits is that residents have a room with privacy. Jill said, “With a room at Sarah’s, a client can focus on her health and make progress toward her goals, things like meeting with her asylum attorney, focusing on her health and medical needs, focusing on employment and gaining independence.” Residents live at Sarah’s for about 18 months, up to three years. Jill said she hears about how living at Sarah’s brings positive changes. “Clients tell me they begin to do things to take care of themselves again, things that they didn’t know they could do,” she said.


These changes are apparent to the staff at Sarah’s as well. Cheryl said that residents are welcomed warmly by the other women and begin to build their confidence as they develop camaraderie with the residents. “After the first few days of safety, beauty and love, the women often look like a new person who is ready to take on her next goal,” Cheryl said. “Sarah’s women are resilient, faithful, beautiful inside and out, and will accomplish big goals.”


Sarah’s has changed my life. It was a place to stay when I did not have another place to go.” -Resident at Sarah’s

When a client moves from the instability of housing that is temporary or even unsafe, she can find the safety that allows for growth. “Sarah’s has changed my life. It was a place to stay when I did not have another place to go. I was very fearful before but found kindness and love at Sarah’s,” said a resident. “The community of women here is like family.”

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