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Violence survivor finds hope and support at One Safe Place

Chuck Westerheide

County of San Diego Communications Office

Nani's smile is lovely and her story uniquely positioned to illustrate the importance of organizations like One Safe Place, a safe haven set up by the District Attorney's Office to provide hope and services to help victims of domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, human trafficking and violent loss in San Diego's North County.

Nani lived on the streets of Escondido for more than five years. She and her boyfriend were well-known to the deputies and police officers working near the Escondido Transit Center because they were often the subject of complaints.

One day transit cameras caught Nani's boyfriend striking and knocking her to the ground. San Diego Sheriff Deputies Jason Burk, Brian Abraham and Amber Sprague saw the video and moved in to arrest him. After the arrest, Deputy Sprague knew One Safe Place could provide the support Nani needed.

"One Safe Place is a one stop shop to support victims of abuse and trauma," Tracy Prior, Chief Deputy District Attorney and Chief Operating Officer of One Safe Place.

"The District Attorney's Office created One Safe Place as a one stop shop to address the needs of abuse and trauma victims," said Tracy Prior, Chief Deputy District Attorney and Chief Operating Officer of One Safe Place. Care coordinators from the District Attorney's Office focus on the needs of victims and their families. They then expand the team to provide an array of services like planning, legal services and mental health support based on the situational needs.

Deputy Brian Abraham says Nani walked through the front door at One Safe Place and "everyone was welcoming."

The team of professionals at One Safe Place included Care Coordinator Crystal Robbins who quickly went to work accessing Nani's needs.

Nani's mother and daughter lived out-of-state, and they were excited to help her return home. Estefania Gomez, an eligibility worker with the County of San Diego, stepped in to help facilitate. Gomez often helps victims get financial support like food stamps or other aid programs, helps facilitate medical attention for chronic or immediate medical issues, and connects people with a social worker. But Nani's case was different. In her case, she had an opportunity to immediately change Nani's life, pluck her off the streets of Escondido and get her home to her family.

Partner organizations were willing to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get her a plane ticket, but the travel planning had its challenges.

For one, Nani had been homeless for years, so she had no identification or documents like a birth certificate to prove who she was, a critical element in being allowed to board a plane. Staff at One Safe Place set to work to track down Nani's birth certificate from her home state and work with the state of California to issue her a new identification card.

While this was going on, other team members worked with Nani to get her ready for the trip. She only had the clothes and belongings she could carry with her, so the One Safe Place department store-style clothing shop was a must stop.

Knowing the flight would not be until the next morning, staff found a safe place for Nani to clean up and sleep while she waited.

"This is a prime example of what can happen when we all work together," San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy Amber Sprague.

The following morning, Deputies Burk and Abraham started their day by arriving at Nani's hotel at 6:30 a.m. and driving her to the airport. They even walked with her to the gate where Nani hugged the deputies multiple times before boarding.

Nani had gone from an abusive relationship, homeless on the streets of Escondido to meeting with her family and a new home hundreds of miles away in less than 24 hours.

The story doesn't end there. As Nani works to rebuild her life and mend relationships with her daughter and mother, support for Nani continues today. One Safe Place Care Coordinator Crystal Robbins is still actively working with Nani, her family and service providers in her home state.

Nani has also stayed in touch with the deputies. Two days after her flight, Nani called Deputy Abraham. She told him she was thankful for the support she received from him and the other deputies and that from the team at One Safe Place.

"In my career in law enforcement, the support Nani got from One Safe Place was one of the most beautiful things I've seen," said Deputy Sprague.

One Safe Place has served more than 1,000 guests since it opened in July.


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