Dr. Prijatel-Sutton, Executive Director, The Coalition for Family Harmony (Coalition).

The Coalition for Family Harmony (Coalition), opened a second domestic violence shelter, catering to the specific needs of indigenous survivors of domestic violence in February this year.

The Coalition has been providing services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Ventura County since 1976. The new shelter will be staffed with trilingual advocates who speak various languages to better serve survivors who are undocumented and have language barriers.

“We really started to understand the need for a separate shelter, a separate model that could house indigenous survivors in a place that was welcoming for them with the language that’s spoken, the culture, all the different nuances that would help welcome someone but also keep them there and keep them safe”, Dr. Prijatel-Sutton, Executive Director, said to VIDA Newspaper.

The peer-based model of service used at the new shelter aims to create a safe space for indigenous community members to have time to heal and receive legal and therapeutic support.

As part of the model, the Coalition “hired staff that speak their native languages, they are from the indigenous community, they understand the cultural and spiritual needs of the population, they are there to advocate for those who may be hesitant to seek help due to language barriers and fear of deportation”, said Dr. Prijatel-Sutton to VIDA Newspaper.

Survivors of domestic violence often face the difficult decision of leaving their homes and communities to keep themselves and their children safe. This decision is particularly challenging for indigenous survivors of abuse, who often find themselves in a country with few legal rights, a lack of language access, and a high cost of living. Additionally, indigenous survivors working in agriculture or factories often work at the same place of employment as their abuser and rely on shared friends and family to afford living expenses in Ventura County.

“The criminal justice system and even just the social system can be very difficult for any survivor to navigate but when you don’t speak or read the language, you can become very isolated, you feel as though it’s not set up for you to succeed in and we want to break that barrier down”, said Dr. Prijatel-Sutton to VIDA Newspaper.

The new shelter is expected to address these issues and provide a safe space for indigenous survivors to heal, receive support, and help their children deal with the impacts of domestic violence in their lives. The shelter will also focus on identifying avenues for income and housing to help survivors maintain economic independence and build community with other survivors of domestic violence.

The Coalition works to pull in community partners such as churches to help the survivors feel more comfortable. “It’s making us reach out a little bit more in the community and say what are some of the partnerships that we don’t currently have but we need to form relationships with so that we can really wrap around our survivors”, said Dr. Prijatel-Sutton to VIDA Newspaper.

The Coalition has long been aware of the lasting mental and emotional harm that can be caused by severing ties with a community that provides spiritual healing and a sense of social connection. The new shelter will, therefore, provide support in a way that survivors can understand and feel understood.

The funding for the new shelter came from the California Office of Emergency Services, as an undeserved grant providing the funds needed for the housing itself as well as the staff and all the housing materials needed to run the house efficiently.

“When someone comes into our shelter, all the food is paid for, any supplies they need, we have a relationship with a thrift store in Ventura County and the ability to buy new clothes so everything is set up so the survivor doesn’t feel like they have to worry about anything while focusing on healing and preserving their safety”, said Dr. Prijatel-Sutton to VIDA Newspaper.

The Coalition’s mission is to provide direct services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, educate the community regarding multiple forms of violence, and prevent the cycle of violence. Last year, the Coalition served over 5,000 clients across all programming.

Dr. Prijatel-Sutton says the biggest thing the community can do to support is spread awareness that domestic violence still exists and volunteers and donations to the Coalition are always welcome.

Survivors may call the 24-hour trilingual hotline at 800-300-2181 or visit the https://thecoalition.org/ site for more information.