N Street Village: A Community of Empowerment and Recovery for Women

N Street Village: A Community of Empowerment and Recovery for Women

N Street Village provides comprehensive supportive services and housing for homeless and low-income women in Washington, DC. Many of the women served by N Street Village face multiple challenges for recovery, including a history of trauma, poverty, mental illness, addiction, and chronic health problems. To help each woman regain a stable healthy life, N Street Village utilizes trauma-informed care at every level of service to help empower women to achieve self-sufficiency. Throughout their programs and services, N Street Village emphasizes the importance of community in the healing and recovery process.

Recently, N Street Village expanded its permanent supportive housing services through the creation of a new program called Erna’s House. This new program, developed in partnership with the D.C. Department of Human Services, houses 31 women who formerly experienced homelessnesss in Washington, DC. Women at Erna’s House have access to services on-site including case managers, residential support staff, and a health promotion specialist. In addition, there are additional services at N Street Village’s nearby flagship site including comprehensive education, employment, day center, and physical health and wellness services.

USICH spoke with the Executive Director of N Street Village, Schroeder Stribling about the program. According to Stribling, 88 percent of women served by N Street Village self-identify as having had a traumatic experience. 

USICH: How does your program use trauma-informed care to help women regain stable, healthy lives?

Stribling: N Street Village has adopted a broad definition of trauma and operates under the assumption that homelessness in and of itself is a traumatic experience. It is important to start with an awareness of the fundamental impact of trauma on the lives of women. Regardless of the type of trauma, whether it is physical or sexual abuse, exposure to violence, or homelessness, a traumatic experience can impact a woman’s physical and mental health, her relationships, and her overall perception of the world.

N Street Village’s programs promote a trauma-informed care approach to all our services, from the client to the staff and we review elements of the physical and social environment when considering the type of environment that a woman needs in order to heal and recover.  We place a primary emphasis on the quality of relationships, starting with the very first interaction a woman has with a staff person or peer.  Beginning with a kind “hello” and a safe, welcoming environment can not only help to engage women in services, but also lay the foundation necessary to begin recovery and rebuild relationships.

USICH: How do you rebuild trust?

Stribling: One way we do this is to emphasize the importance of community. When utilizing a trauma-informed care approach, it is important to recognize the healing effects of community in the recovery process. N Street Village works to intentionally connect women to supportive relationships through its peer mentorship and peer leadership programs—specifically the Senior Peer Corps and Client Volunteer Corps. The Senior Peer Corp is a group of women who are considered to be elders and leaders at N Street Village. These women help to mentor new women through the orientation process, as well as providing social support and recreational opportunities, and giving tours for visitors. We strive to create community through a consistent, daily and disciplined focus on relationships and social connectedness, and through collaboration between staff and clients in creating an atmosphere of hospitality, safety and trust.

USICH: What do you see as the benefits of women’s only programs and services when utilizing a trauma-informed care approach?

Stribling: A women’s only program allows providers to focus on the specific ways that women experience trauma and the special conditions necessary for homeless women to experience empowerment, healing and recovery. For some women, just the fact of a women’s only program creates an important sense of safety.  Other women served by N Street Village are mothers who need help reconnecting with their children or loved ones, and the practical challenges and emotional challenges, such as guilt and grief, they experience can best be addressed by mental health care and community-based services that specialize in women’s issues.  We believe that the experience of trauma among the women that we serve is nearly universal and we have an awareness of the particular vulnerabilities and triggers they experience.  We regard it as our responsibility to create a community for the women we serve that is sensitized to trauma in all aspects and that promotes empowerment and recovery in all of our interactions and interventions. 

Read more on this important topic:

Guidance on stopping the trauma cycle from Joan Gillece the Director for SAMHSA’s National Center of Trauma-informed Care

A blog post from USICH Deputy Director Jennifer Ho on the Importance of Trauma-Informed Care for mothers experiencing homelessness

Information on trauma and female Veterans

Recommended reading list on trauma, mothers, and children from Ellen Bassuk, the founder and president of the National Center for Family Homelessness and the Director of the Center for Social Innovation