Moving into a building twice the size of its previous facility has served as a catalyst for the Support, Advocacy & Resource Center to expand its on-site counseling services and increase its services for sex trafficking victims.
The move to the $1.2 million building on Richland’s Fowler Street, completed in mid-June, offers the advantage of space for the 24-hour crisis intervention, support and advocacy for victims of crime – sexual violence, human trafficking, physical assault, homicide, gang violence, identity theft, elder abuse and harassment and preventive education and awareness. SARC provided 1,124 services to 450 new clients in 2016 and received 597 calls for information and crisis information.
“I think as far as service delivery, the new building has really helped us enhance and expand our outreach,” said JoDee Garretson, SARC executive director. “We’re providing more comprehensive services to human trafficking victims now. Having dedicated staff is essential, as there’s more involved in trafficking cases.”
Trafficking victims face complex issues that may include the need for a restoration home/treatment facility, which isn’t available in the Tri-City area, Garretson said. This necessitates more contacts and time spent making arrangements for them. Trafficking victims often face drug/alcohol issues, live on the streets, have financial struggles and therefore need transportation and clothing.
“Many are also in the criminal justice system, related to their victimization, so we have more work to do in that area,” Garretson said.
SARC received a state grant to expand its sexual trafficking program, which enabled the not-for-profit organization to add a human trafficking advocate, program assistant and clinical director for the counseling center. The grant amount from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2018, is $142,725.
“It’s not necessarily that the rate of trafficking has increased; we’re all just better trained to identify victims and better know when it’s taking place,” Garretson said. Whether the rate of sex trafficking has increased has been nearly impossible to track in the past. SARC annually reports victim statistics to the state, said Garretson, though “sexual trafficking” hasn’t previously been a category.
“It was included under ‘sexual assault,’ but now has its own category,” Garretson said. “It’ll take some time to see whether there’s growth in that area.”
In addition to the expanded trafficking program, the larger building allowed for an on-site counseling program.
“We had one counseling position a few years ago, but it was high-end burnout due to one person seeing victims with serious issues all day,” Garretson said. The new program is set up differently to prevent burnout. It includes a clinical director and at least two internships, but up to four counseling positions.
“Being able to interview and receive counseling at the same facility is very helpful to victims,” Garretson said. “Insurance and finances won’t be an obstacle.” Each counseling position can serve up to six clients per day, though that number is dependent on individual cases.
Counseling needs are so great that the clinical director’s schedule is already full, Garretson said. In September, interns completing their master’s degrees through Walla Walla University will join the team. Each intern will work 16 to 20 hours per week and as many as four counselors will cycle through.
“The interns are provided at no cost to us. It’s very beneficial because we have space for two full-time, quality counselors to meet the complex needs of our clients because our clinical director has had special training to lead them,” Garretson said.
Besides the enhanced sex trafficking program and addition of on-site counseling, the new building has the added benefit of space.
“In our previous facility, we had a really small waiting room. When people came to receive services for such personal issues, it was difficult to have all of them stacked in one small space,” said the director. “Sometimes children have parents in hostile relationships and it’s best to separate them. Other times, our adult survivors of abuse would get triggered by the children in the waiting room. It would often take a long time to address that incident when meeting with them.”
The new facility on Fowler Street in Richland’s Spaulding Business Park, has two separate waiting rooms, which provide “more privacy and comfort for the clients,” Garretson said. It also includes an additional conference room for team meetings between law enforcement, prosecutors, Child Protective Services and advocates.
Another change in the new building is state-of-the-art recording equipment and technology. SARC previously had one-way glass to interview children, which is unnecessary due to the teams’ ability to watch interviews on monitors as they’re recorded.
“It’s been a transition. We had one-way glass for 17 years,” said Garretson, who has served as director for nearly 22 years and was previously a volunteer advocate. The new courtyard area, which the building surrounds, is a source of comfort and tranquility for clients.
“Hearing clients comment that it felt so good for them to be able to calm down, relax in a safe place and breathe at SARC prompted us to add a relaxing courtyard with walking paths and trees,” Garretson said. A water feature soon will be added.
“We just found out that the Team Battelle Project took on the courtyard and donated $20,000. They will finish the work in the courtyard, which will include small, private coves with benches, flowers and plants,” Garretson said. “They’ll add the water feature. Nature is therapeutic and will add comfort for our clients.” The building’s inner windows open to the courtyard.
“We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to the new facility,” Garretson said. “The clients have been so positive about the colors, the layout of the building and the comfort it provides. Some have said they didn’t realize how less inviting the other building was until coming here. Law enforcement and team members have also said they really like it.”
The public is invited to SARC’s grand opening event on Oct. 5, which coincides with the organization’s 40th anniversary.
SARC’s focus on expanding the sex trafficking program will continue, with the goal of “raising awareness in the community” and helping clients through the on-site counseling program, Garretson said.
Those interested in donating items such as hygiene products, diapers and non-perishable food are welcome to drop it by the facility at 1458 Fowler St. in Richland.
Those interested in becoming volunteer advocates may visit supportadvocacyresourcecenter.org or call 509-374-5391. The next volunteer advocate training kicks off in September for those wishing to work with clients on an after-hours basis.
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