Nonprofit that houses homeless women and children plans expansion in Oak Park

City of Refuge for homeless and sex traffic victims to expand

Rachelle Ditmore co -founded City of Refuge, which houses women and their children who were homeless and have a history of domestic abuse, prostitution, or sex trafficking.
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Rachelle Ditmore co -founded City of Refuge, which houses women and their children who were homeless and have a history of domestic abuse, prostitution, or sex trafficking.

A Sacramento nonprofit plans to build a three-story building in Oak Park to house 28 homeless women and their children, but first needs to raise $5 million.

City of Refuge Sacramento — founded about eight years ago by an Oak Park couple — currently houses 12 women and their children in two Oak Park homes where they can stay for up to two years while receiving job training and other services.

Most of the women in the program are between ages 18 and 24, have children, and have histories of human trafficking or domestic abuse, said Rachelle Ditmore, the nonprofit’s co-founder. Many of the women are coming out of the foster system or juvenile hall, finding they have nowhere to live and can’t find jobs. One woman had lived in 16 different homes before coming to City of Refuge — and many have a similar story, Ditmore said.

“That lifestyle creates a need for survival for many of the young women in our city,” Ditmore said. “For the majority of them, what survival looks like is a life none of us would have wanted or chose.”

The nonprofit wants to expand because there are many more women in need in the city than there are beds at the two City of Refuge houses, or at the facilities of other similar nonprofits, like My Sister’s House and WEAVE, Inc., Ditmore said.

“We get calls every day,” Ditmore said.

Ditmore recently talked to a 23-year-old woman who was sleeping in her car with three children, and had to tell her both houses were full, she said.

The new facility will feature a restaurant called Hautebird, where the women in the program can gain work experience in the food service industry.

The restaurant, known for its chicken-filled waffle cones, has been hosting pop-ups around the city.

The building will also include a childcare center named after Sacramento Police Chief Daniel Hahn’s mother, Mary Jean Hahn, who served the Oak Park neighborhood and died last year. At her funeral service, instead of flowers, Hahn asked for people to donate to City of Refuge.

“The work they do is exactly what my mom would have been down for,” said Hahn, who grew up two blocks from the lot the nonprofit plans to build.

Part of the Ditmores’ mission is to help rebuild and revitalize Oak Park, the neighborhood where they live.

“We want to create spaces of community pride and spaces where people can congregate,” said Loren Ditmore, co-founder of City of Refuge.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said she supports public money going to the project, whether through the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, from the state or from the city’s Measure U sales tax increase.

“This community deserves this type of investment and longs for it,” said Ashby, who represents Natomas but attended high school and law school in Oak Park, at Sacramento Charter High School and McGeorge School of Law.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District has granted the project $100,000 to kick off the fund raising campaign, which gets underway next month, Loren Ditmore said.

The organization hopes to raise $5 million by the end of the spring and start construction in the summer, Loren Ditmore said.

The nonprofit receives about 35 percent of its housing budget from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, while the rest mostly comes from private donations or corporate grants, Loren Ditmore said. Sacramento is one of 21 cities across the country with City of Refuge locations. The organization is based in Atlanta.

Even with the expansion, the city will still have many women with histories of human trafficking still on the streets unable to find housing, Hahn said.

“It’s just a drop in the bucket,” he said. “There’s so many more women who, with more services, could absolutely use them.”

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.