Sisterhood program at Dallas' Austin Street Center helps women in crisis

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A strong sisterhood in Dallas is helping women find something good in dark places.

Austin Street Center – one of the largest low-barrier shelters in Dallas – provides basic needs like a safe place to sleep, showers, clothing, laundry facilities, and meals for homeless individuals.

But within that shelter is a group called the Sisterhood Program, which specifically helps women experiencing homelessness and traumas like abuse, exploitation, substance addiction, and mental illness.

"A lot of our women were raised in dysfunction. And so this is the only life that they know is dysfunction and substance abuse,” said Xavier jones, a sisterhood program case manager. "It's very important for them to recognize that their life can change, that they can get better. A lot of the women have gone through traumatic barriers.”

The sisterhood exclusively surrounds their members with resources like life skills training, counseling and therapy for mental illness and substance use – in addition to temporary housing and peer support to guide them toward independence and security.

Austin Street Center

"It's all about empowering our ladies so that they can be successful, stay clean and sober and ring the bell – get their own place and remove the homelessness,” said Zenovia Petty, a sisterhood program case manager. "A lot of the ladies here deal with domestic violence and the classes that we offer gives them the tools that they need to build up their self-esteem, learn more about triggers, and relapse prevention such as self-care and self-love.”

Case managers like Jones and Petty – who themselves are both in long-term recovery – says statistics show women are at higher risk than men to relapse.

“We introduce them to 12 step programs that that show them that life doesn't have to be this way,” said Jones. “We walk the walk with them. I have four years in recovery. So I just show the ladies how it can be done.”

Petty said it’s important to show other women that it is possible to rebuild their lives. They even work toward reuniting women with children who may have been separated during a crisis or addiction.

“In December, I'll be celebrating almost six years of sobriety and being able to walk alongside these ladies and help them remove the barriers that I experienced…I can relate to so many of the things that they've been through. Being able to walk alongside them is amazing to me because a lot of times people don't get what it takes for recovery and what it takes when you've been in abusive relationships,” said Petty.

The sisterhood also offers financial empowerment, workforce development, and employment skills training. Through an in-house social enterprise internship with XELA Aroma, the women even make and sell their candles.

Austin Street Center

Additionally, the Sisterhood Program operates in Austin Street Center’s Program Building, separated from the congregate shelter, in a women-only space to distance these vulnerable women from men who may remind them of abusers and assaulters of their past. The Sisterhood space even has artwork and trauma-informed paint colors recommended by designers from the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center.

Round-the-clock security services are also provided by an all-female security staff and a highly controlled gate system designed to deliver assurance of safety and security.

Next month, Austin Street Center is hosting a special Humble Beginnings Luncheon to celebrate 40 years, featuring former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The event is on Friday, October 27 at the Hilton Anatole. Click here for details.

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