“Home” means different things to different people.
A comfy sofa. A warm bed. A cat lounging in the sun on the windowsill. Kids playing in the other room. An animated discussion of the day’s events during a family meal.
For many, home is a sanctuary from busy schedules and hectic lives. But for women participating in the Support, Education, Empowerment and Directions program, home can be a life-saver.
Katie Edwards, associate professor of educational psychology with the Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools, is leading research to better understand the features of successful sober-living safe homes that promote recovery among women with histories of addiction and sexual or domestic violence victimization.
Her project aims to document the extent to which women living at three SEEDs homes — in Chandler, Mesa and Phoenix, Arizona — report positive outcomes over time. Those outcomes include maintaining sobriety, promoting psychological and emotional wellness, reducing rates of sexual and domestic violence revictimization, abstaining from criminal offending, maintaining employment and, when applicable, regaining or maintaining custody of children.
Established in 2003 to address unmet needs of women with histories of addiction and victimization, SEEDs is a gender-responsive, trauma-informed recovery program that provides safe, sober housing to women affected by substance abuse and violence.
“SEEDs was different from anything I had ever seen,” said Edwards, director of the Interpersonal Violence Research Laboratory. “It’s an exciting program that focuses on holistic recovery and the role of family and community supports. This project aims to identify ways SEEDs is working and why, as well as to pinpoint some challenges and ways to enhance survivors’ outcomes.”
Edwards’ mixed-methods study follows women in SEEDs for a year. Participants complete surveys when they enter the program, then complete two more surveys at six-month intervals.
Researchers are looking for indicators of recovery, such as continued sobriety, a reduction in depression or post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and more stability in finances and housing situations. They will also examine predictors that include the length of stays at SEEDs, program engagement, whether participants are staying in violence-free relationships over time, and how engaged they feel in the SEEDs community.
Edwards’ project is a subcontract from the University of New Hampshire, funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice–Office on Violence Against Women.
Preliminary findings from the pilot project show that for many participants, SEEDs was instrumental to their recovery. For many, the program provided food, clothing, shelter, medical care and a safe place — especially for women with children — as well as emotional support. Many women entered the program directly from incarceration, homelessness or sex-trafficking situations.
“For many women, it was the first time they felt like they had a family,” Edwards said. “The women in SEEDs are helping one another and promoting recovery.”
One of the program’s most innovative elements is the Cup O’ Karma coffee shop. Located in the Chandler Public Library, the shop is run by SEEDs participants — current residents and alums. They develop job skills, such as budget management and customer service, and enhance their work history. Money raised at the shop supplements the various housing grants and donations SEEDs receives to support the residences.
The core strength of SEEDs, Edwards said, is that it is resident-driven. Women living in the homes help create house rules, manage household responsibilities, cook and eat together, and continually share emotional support. That, coupled with the focus on family and community — and the hands-on, skill-building opportunities at Cup O’Karma — empowers women to recover from trauma and maintain their sobriety while enhancing their pathways to self-sufficiency.
“A lot of women come into the program believing they somehow deserve what happened to them,” Edwards said. “SEEDs helps women understand that they are worthy and have a purpose in this world.”
The study’s findings will be used to bolster the impact of SEEDs, Edwards said, and provide a model for other communities wishing to implement a similar program.