Victoria Shepherd, who founded the nonprofit, knows their stories all too well. Because it happened to her, too.
By Sriya Reddy
When Victoria Shepherd learned that the teenagers she worked with at Cafe Momentum often didn’t have a safe place to sleep at night, she was angry. She was angry not only because of the lack of stability in their lives, but also because she knew what it felt like to feel unsafe.
When she was in her early 20s, Shepherd was drugged, raped on a beach and left in the ocean in Thailand. If two men from her hostel hadn’t found her, she believes she would have died. She has no memory of the attack beyond what was told to her.
For years, Shepherd’s experience led to her struggle with addiction. She said every time she closed her eyes, her mind would try to imagine what had happened to her on that beach. When she was under the influence, she didn’t need to think about it.
“It took going therapy to realize that that’s why I was drinking and doing drugs every night,” Shepherd said. “Because I just either didn’t want to go to sleep at all, or I wanted to black out so I could go to sleep.”
All she wanted then was a safe place to be. And now, she dedicates her life to building exactly that. Shepherd started Shepherd Inn in 2019 for women between 18 to 28 who have experienced sexual trauma or domestic abuse. Shepherd Inn has an outreach program and transitional housing, and it has supported almost 20 women.
“It is a safe haven for women who have experienced sexual trauma,” Shepherd said. “A safe place for them to recover and get back on their feet. It’s a place where you’ll feel love and security every single day.”
She said that their stories are her story, but she hopes they won’t have to go through all that she went through.
“I developed alcohol addiction, drug addiction, went to jail,” Shepherd said. “Even though we come from completely different parts of the United States sometimes or our lives have been drastically different, they’re all very, very much the same.”
Girls that come to Shepherd have to come up with an action plan and make progress on their physical and mental health. Their goals typically include graduating from high school or getting a GED, saving up for an apartment and getting a driver’s license.
Shepherd also partners with Grace United Methodist Church for her outreach program, which includes financial education, yoga, trauma therapy and studying the Bible and other books that Shepherd thinks would be beneficial to them.
One of the first people that Shepherd helped get back on her feet was Sharonda Campbell. The two worked together at a pizza place in 2018. Campbell needed some help to stand back up after her husband was killed that year, and Shepherd let Campbell and her daughter into her home.
“It was a blessing,” Campbell said. “I’m just gonna say it was a blessing. Victoria, it felt like she was more like a guardian angel to me.”
Campbell stayed with Shepherd for about two months in 2019 and was able to save up for an apartment. However, because of the pandemic and the struggles of the restaurant industry, Campbell could not find work and eventually was evicted and moved into a motel.
Fast forward to December 2021, Shepherd offered that same home to Campbell, fully furnished. Shepherd surprised Campbell and her two kids with the home after finding out they were living in a motel.
“It’s a relief,” Campbell said. “It’s a breath of fresh air. I can’t say thank you enough. I wake up every morning and I thank God. I can go outside and sit on my porch and drink coffee.”
Campbell said she is really grateful because having a house and living in a neighborhood was her and her late husband’s dream
“I feel that he’s happier now, and he can rest knowing that we’re OK,” she said.
Veronica Enoch is also grateful for what Shepherd has given her. As she aged out of the foster care system, Enoch needed a place to stay. She met Shepherd the summer of 2019 and stayed with her for about five months.
Shepherd helped Enoch get her documents in order, receive her driver’s license and furnished her first apartment.
“Aging out of the foster care system meant that I didn’t know how to do a lot of stuff,” Enoch said. “She helped me through all of that.”
Enoch said that Shepherd is like a big sister to her.
“She’s all my emergency contacts, she’s the only person that’s able to pick up my son from day care besides me,” Enoch said. “I just appreciate her, and she’s done a lot. She did it all by herself, too.”
Today, Enoch has a driver’s license, her own apartment and car, and she has been sober for about eight months.
“Victoria has a really good heart,” Enoch said. “She is always willing to take that risk to help somebody out.”
Shepherd said she hopes to grow Shepherd Inn and create a Recovery Ranch, outside of the city, where the women who are a part of her program can stay, heal and learn. Her goal is to break ground by the end of 2022. Shepherd said that she never shies away from asking for help and is looking forward to the future of Shepherd Inn.
To volunteer or donate, go to the website shepherdinn.org.
CORRECTION, 12:50 p.m., Jan 5, 2022: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Victoria Shepherd’s attackers left her in an alley, but it was actually in the ocean.