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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Seattle Human Services Department Continues To Build Up Safe And Thriving Communities Division

HSD Interim Director Helen Howell

As the City of Seattle continues to reimagine public safety, the Safe and Thriving Communities Division is a new division in the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) that consolidates previous and planned City of Seattle community safety investments into the department. The division was created in response to the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and ensuing community advocacy efforts that urged the City to center Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and shift safety investments into community-based organizations.

As part of the reimagining, the Crime Survivor Services (CSS) Unit – comprised of the Crime Victim Advocates and Victim Support Team programs – was integrated into HSD from the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

CSS supports individuals who experience a broad range of violent assaults, some of which include domestic violence, elder abuse, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, and hate crimes. The unit also supports family members of homicide victims. Community-based agencies work closely with the unit keeping them current on resources available to survivors; increasing opportunities for partnership; and enhancing collaboration between system and community-based advocates. This work is centered on survivor agency, dignity, and safety as well as ensuring trauma-informed care through a race and social justice lens.

“We welcome the Crime Survivor Services unit to the Human Services Department,” said HSD Interim Director Helen Howell. “Their work is incredibly important, and we look forward to partnering with them as we stand up this new division dedicated to community safety.”

From the time a police report is filed, nine, system-based, Crime Victim Advocates are responsible for working on behalf of families/survivors to ensure access to resources – from victim benefits to interpreters to critical services for shelter, transportation, counseling, medical services, and more. This advocacy can typically continue through the filing of criminal charges and the different phases of court proceedings.

Crime Victim Advocates will continue to co-locate within each investigative SPD unit to provide seamless support. One such example is the Elder Crimes Advocate, who works alongside the SPD Detective as they both visit the crime survivor’s home. The Advocate can provide an early assessment of the crime survivor’s cognitive functioning and offer a softer tone for the vulnerable adult. Perpetrators of these crimes are often family members or caregivers, creating an immediate care need once the perpetrator is removed from the situation. By being involved in the case from the beginning, the Advocate can assess those care needs and start working to quickly put a plan in place.

The second CSS program is the Victim Support Team (VST). VST is a 30-year-old program designed to bridge the gap in services for domestic violence survivors immediately after a patrol officer responds to a 911 call.

On the weekends, VST is a mobile crisis response team, operating city-wide and offering on-scene and/or over-the-phone support. Volunteers work in teams of two and are assisted by an On-Call Supervisor. They provide transportation; help locate shelter, food, and clothing; offer resource referral; offer safety planning; and answer questions about the criminal justice system. During the week, the VST Victim Advocate responds to requests for VST services, collaborating with detectives, patrol officers, system-based advocates, and community partners.

As part of the new transition to CSS, VST plans to adapt and expand beyond its current model to also include supporting the CSS Advocates by accompanying survivors to court and offering immediate emergency resources to survivors of all types of violent crime.

“The community members that volunteer for VST are remarkably dedicated,” said Kaylee DiMaggio, VST Supervisor. “After a year of pandemic-related furlough, they are eager to return to service and grateful for the opportunity to continue this important work.”

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