In the middle of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Sumner’s Exodus Housing is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
None of those involved wishes the program was necessary.
But it is, and the dozens of families who find Exodus each year are desperate.
“The women and children who come to us are in life-threatening situations,” said Joe O’Neil, executive director.
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“They’re fleeing domestic violence, and many of the women don’t have jobs, have no job experience — they’ve been stay-at-home moms — or little education.
“There are only two qualifications necessary to get our help. There must be children involved, and the family must be fleeing domestic violence.”
After 20 years, Exodus has served all of Pierce County and never had a time when those families were difficult to find.
“None of these families come to us because they want to,” said case manager Rachael DiCecco. “No one wakes up one morning and says, ‘Take everything away from me.’
“We help. We partner with other programs to fill the needs we don’t handle.”
Exodus does one thing, and has become known for doing it well.
“We do rapid rehousing,” O’Neil said. “That’s 100 percent of our focus.”
If a woman and her family qualify, they can make arrangements over the telephone, talking to a case manager. What follows is one of the reasons Exodus is so unusual.
“We don’t own property,” O’Neil said. “We don’t have apartments or housing waiting for families. We tell families to go find a place to live and have the landlord contact us.”
Exodus asks that clients pay 30 percent of their salary toward rent, which often is a moot point.
“In many cases, no one would rent to them in their current situation,” O’Neil said
When the mother isn’t working, Exodus pays it all with money accrued from federal, state and county government.
“We help them with everything from application fees and — working with the landlord — first and last month’s rent, any security deposit,” O’Neil said.
“We get the family into an apartment, get a roof over their head.
“They usually come with nothing more than what they’re wearing, so we work with a partner like NW Furniture Bank to furnish everything from shower curtains to pots and pans, from beds to household goods.”
Then, O’Neil said, the program has expectations of the family.
“We expect Mom to have the kids in school and to start working on things they need to work on to retain housing — like getting a job,” O’Neil said.
Exodus doesn’t do counseling, but works with partners that do. It doesn’t do job training, either, but helps women find that, too.
It’s not always where you might expect.
“We had one woman whose background was in construction,” DiCecco said. “There is a new program, the Manufacturing Academy, part of WorkForce, that is training women in nontraditional occupations — iron workers, welders, construction. They helped her get a job.
“She’s now exited the program and opened her own business. She wants to hire some of our women, and we have clients now training in the field she needs.”
The average time a family needs Exodus support is eight months. The success rate of families that use the program and then leave under far better circumstances is 80 percent, O’Neil said.
The work Exodus does isn’t cheap. With a staff of eight — including O’Neil — the annual budget is about $815,000.
“Everything is results-driven,” O’Neil said. “This year alone, we got $90,000 of additional funding in June, when the county allocated more money for us, ultimately, because we have great statistics.”
The best stats might be the simplest: lives saved. Last year, Exodus worked with 76 families and provided, along with housing, privacy and security.
“Everyone has a safety plan,” O’Neil said. “We help with name changes, get them off social media, cut down ways they can be found by their abuser.
“Because of the children, abusers often are in their lives forever — they go to court and get visitation rights.”
Even after families leave the program, Exodus protects their privacy. With good reason.
“We have had two children in our program who were killed,” O’Neil said.
That, as much as anything, explains why Exodus is still needed.
Address: 15318 Washington St. E, Sumner, WA 98390