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Austin looks into opening a trauma recovery center

Tuesday, March 15, 2022 by Willow Higgins

Austin’s Public Health Committee is taking a look at establishing a trauma recovery center in the city to help victims of violent crime navigate their way to recovery.

The resolution, which the committee passed last week, directs city staff to look at the feasibility of funding and opening a center, which would cost at least $1 million per year. Thirty-nine facilities across the country are already using the TRC model as a one-stop shop for comprehensive support, including mental health care, to help people navigate the justice system and find a safe space to live. The TRC model is unique in that is intended to serve all victims, even those who have not filed a police report. Currently, victims of violent crime in Austin must file a police report in order to initiate victim services.

“​​We desperately need a trauma recovery center in Austin, and it is a conversation that has been happening in our community for the last two years,” said Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, who sponsored the resolution. “It’s important that we as the Public Health Committee … and City Council move forward in formalizing that conversation.”

The model, which was developed in 2001 in San Francisco, is designed to make trauma recovery care more accessible for all. Without a TRC, only one in 10 survivors of a violent crime receives direct assistance, according to Tricia Forbes of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, who spoke to the committee about the TRC model. In cities with a trauma recovery center, the percentage of sexual assault victims receiving mental health care jumped from 6 to 71 percent.

By providing free trauma recovery care to a wider array of victims, the model also aims to prevent repeat victimization. People who have already experienced violent crime are four times more likely to be repeat crime victims, Forbes went on to explain.

“I am a survivor of sexual assault and this was true for me,” she said. “After I was sexually assaulted as a teenager, unfortunately I was one of these statistics and went on to be sexually assaulted two more times in my teenage and young adult years.”

If the city were to adopt the model, it would need to find an existing organization that would use the grant to scale up its current services and become a trauma recovery center. While ultimately the city would have to pick the best applicant to serve the community’s needs, Alicia Boccellari, the founder of the model, would assist the city in setting up the center to be as successful as possible.

Once they are built out, the centers are run by a “multidisciplinary team of social workers, psychologists and a psychiatrist, and they all work together as a team to coordinate care,” Boccellari said. “The TRC does not see itself as being defined by four walls of a particular location, but each client is assigned a coordinator of care that coordinates services … across the entire system of care.” This helps prevent victims from having to run all over the city to get the help they need.

“Every community we have gone into, there has been a legitimate concern that existing victim services feel that the TRC is going to come and take over and that’s not the case at all. We work actively with domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers. We basically believe it takes an entire community to heal people from violence,” Boccellari explained.

The proposal would ask the city to commit to the center being open for at least two years. While running the program would cost at least $1 million annually, the resolution suggests that the city and county split the cost, so the city would contribute $500,000 for two consecutive years.

While trauma recovery centers provide care at no cost to victims, the model is about 34 percent more cost-effective than typical care. About 75 percent of TRC clients have reported improved mental health after receiving the services the center provides.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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