11 Apr 2022

Sojourner House

Josh Pereira


When *Abi, a single mother of two, arrived in Rhode Island from Nigeria on a work visa, her plan was to work and provide for her family back home.

Instead, Abi found herself in danger. She had a job as a caretaker for an elderly person but was required to care for the entire six-member household. She was mentally and sexually abused. She was never paid, was left outside in the freezing cold, and feared for her life.

Abi was placed in a safe shelter, received mental health counseling and immigration legal assistance. Nearly two years later, Abi is now living in her own safe home. She also has a work permit and she just reunited with her children.

Abi is just one of countless abuse victims who have benefited from Sojourner House’s many crucial services, including its Immigration Advocacy Program. The only program of its kind in Rhode Island, the Immigration Advocacy Program specifically provides immigration services, including legal assistance, to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking.

Now, with the recent support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection, the Sojourner House will be able to not only continue to serve immigrant victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in Rhode Island, it will be able to increase access to and awareness of its services and hire additional staff.

“We are so grateful for the support from the Papitto Opportunity Connection,” said Vanessa Volz, executive director of Sojourner House. “With this funding, it will allow us to expand our immigration services and add staff in this important area. It’s phenomenal.”

The need for Sojourner House’s impactful services and programs is more crucial than ever. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, with victims often trapped at home with their abusers, there has been an alarming rise in domestic violence.

During its last fiscal year, Sojourner House directly served 1,614 victims of abuse in Rhode Island, an increase of 55 percent from the previous year. The organization provided more than 22,000 services, an increase of 94 percent over the prior year. The need for safe housing was staggering. Sojourner provided over a half million dollars in rental assistance so its clients and their children could have safe places to live.

Sojourner House has also experienced a dramatic increase in the number of undocumented victim clients, the majority who are people of color and speak another language. Over a 12-month period, the Immigrant Advocacy Program served 235 clients, an increase of 22 percent over the previous year. The number of services provided in that period increased by 16 percent.

While requests for immigration services increased, funding decreased. VOCA (Victims of Crime Act), a federal grant program, was the Immigrant Advocacy Program’s primary source of funding. VOCA experienced dramatic cuts and, as a result, the Immigrant Advocacy Program saw its budget dwindle, cut by 65% in the last two years.

“The funding from the Papitto Opportunity Connection has come at a critical time,” said Volz. “The support allows us to fill critical funding gaps in the program to ensure that we could continue to provide the same level of services and, indeed, meet the increased demand for additional immigrational services.”

*(The name of the client has been changed to protect her privacy).

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