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Local partnership aims to address void in support for sexual assault and people experiencing homelessness

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 5:42 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Following up with clients and making new connections is a typical day for Norah Heaton at the Willis Dady Overflow Shelter in Cedar Rapids. Heaton is a sexual assault advocate for Riverview Center.

“I would say the first hour that I was there at the overflow location at the Willis Dady Shelter, I maybe had half a dozen people come up to me and say that they wanted to have ongoing conversations and services from us, and none of them were people that we had ever talk to you before,” Heaton said.

The weekly visits are part of the organizations’ new effort to provide trained advocates at the shelter. It will be a partnership, where a volunteer will work alongside Heaton in supporting this population in a new way.

“We don’t have any specific staff members who focus on sexual violence or helping clients in that way so we always have to outsource to other agencies,” said Sierra Pope, Volunteer Coordinator at Willis Dady.

Heaton says one of the biggest changes that’s been effective is being able to be in front of the clients.

“We know that it’s not necessarily realistic to expect that survivors of sexual violence are going to seek us out,” she said.

Heaton says it can be difficult to find help especially for this population, where the prevalence of being survivors of sexual assault is often higher.

“People who are in vulnerable situations often are there because they’ve had to flee violence, or maybe they’ve had responses to trauma that have made it difficult for them to live in certain places,” she added.

The pair is there to listen and support, and if appropriate, connect clients with doctors and law enforcement.

“Some of them have decided to press charges or might be going to counseling or therapy,” said Pope.

“We also want them to know if they have trauma in their childhood that is affecting their current life they can talk to us about that. If they need resource assistance or they just want to check in with somebody, we can help them with that,” said Heaton.

This is a pilot program, but the hope is that it can continue to address these needs in the long term.

“For the clients, we want them to know people care. People will listen to your stories,” Pope said.

People interested in working alongside Heaton can reach out to The Riverview Center or Willis Dady.

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