A Safe Haven for Orange County’s Troubled Women

September 7, 2020 Updated: September 7, 2020

Tucked between businesses on North Broadway and 15th Street in Santa Ana, California, is WISEPlace—a place for women in need of housing support and help on the path toward self-reliance.

“Our phone is, unfortunately, ringing off the hook,” WISEPlace CEO Brateil Aghasi told The Epoch Times. “There’s probably, unfortunately, no end in sight with unemployment, with people losing health care—our services are going to be needed now more than ever.”

Many who come to WISEPlace are escaping domestic abuse. “The data is probably under-reporting domestic violence right now, because it’s very hard to flee,” Aghasi said. “There’s less of an ability to escape and talk to a co-worker or talk to a friend.”

WISEPlace offers wraparound services including shelter, counseling, laundry services, employment assistance, addiction recovery, and housing assistance.

Since the start of stay-at-home orders in March, Aghasi said they’ve served more than 100 women daily. About 40 percent of them are over the age of 60.

The percentage of elderly among the homeless population in California and nationwide has been increasing in recent years. Nationwide, the number sheltered elderly individuals age 62 or older increased by 68.5 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In Los Angeles, people older than 62 saw an increase in homelessness of 22 percent in 2018 alone, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Social Distance and Additional Services

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations in mind, Aghasi made sure hundreds of women in the shelters could maintain physical distance from each other. Aghasi said it’s because they took this action right away that they didn’t have a COVID-19 outbreak.

“So the challenge for us was how to acquire more shelter sites, because I think the biggest thing in keeping people safe and protected—especially older women, especially women with compromised health, which we serve such a high percentage—is how to find them their own space, make sure that they’re physically distanced,” Aghasi said.

Aghasi has connected some women with Project Roomkey, the state-funded initiative that has provided homeless with shelter in hotels.

WISEPlace used to help women in the transitional program with breakfast and snacks throughout the day. But it has expanded in recent months to also include full lunches and dinners.

“Because it’s the right thing to do, to not put the burden on women who are losing their jobs and make sure that they … don’t feel panicked because they don’t have money to provide food. We started to buy everybody’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner, snacks, everything,” Aghasi said.

“So, as you can imagine, that more than tripled our budget overnight, and we’ve been doing that since March.” The shelter also increased cleaning protocols and hired a telemedic.

Aghasi thanks donors, who in April gave nearly $200,000. “This really made the community realize that, ‘I could lose my job,'” Aghasi said. It’s helped people better understand what it’s like to get into a difficult situation and need help, and that’s “a bit of light in a dark situation.”

WISEPlace has helped more than 8,000 women since it started operating almost a century ago, in 1924.