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Washington Voices

Women find safe haven at YWCA shelters

Thu., Jan. 2, 2014

Like many women who are leaving abusive relationships, she waited until her live-in boyfriend was out of town.

Not knowing where she’d go with her children, she packed up her belongings and put them in storage. Staying at a friend’s house or with family was out of the question.

“He’d know where to look and he’d find me,” said the former YWCA safe shelter client, who asked to be anonymous. “As soon as he realized I was gone he started searching for me.”

Fearing for her life, she called the YWCA looking for a place to stay.

“It was the hardest phone call to make,” she said, still tearing up, though it was more than a year ago.

What she remembers most clearly from the first time she walked into the shelter is that it wasn’t at all like she thought it would be.

“You hear these terrible things about shelters,” she said. “Like, there are iron beds and the place is dirty. It wasn’t like that at all.”

The YWCA is beginning to renovate its shelters, moving away from the communal living model. Following guidelines established by the Building Dignity Initiative which is part of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the renovated shelters will allow clients more autonomy and privacy while staying there.

One of the first rooms to get an overhaul at this safe shelter was the children’s playroom.

Regina Malveaux, executive director of the YWCA, said the room used to be drab and gray, but now it features a colorful mural donated by local artist Tiffany Patterson, new shelves, lights and brightly painted walls.

“This is the first component of a much larger remodel we plan on doing,” Malveaux said.

Emily Luke, a commercial interior designer with local architectural company Madsen Mitchell Evenson and Conrad, helped rally a group of local businesses to complete the play room renovation at no cost to the YWCA. Luke belongs to the northwest chapter of the International Interior Design Association, which got behind the playroom renovation.

“People shared their contacts there and we were able to do the room with donations,” Luke said.

Design Source, Inc., Great Floors, Wahl Paint Center and several other local businesses also donated to the playroom project.

At this safe shelter, which has an undisclosed address, as many as 30 women and children share bedrooms, bathrooms, dining and living areas. Four months ago the YWCA opened a new shelter in Spokane Valley.

“We offer a woman in crisis three nights in a hotel if her life is in danger and we can’t take her in,” said Patty Wheeler, director of programs for the YWCA. “Last year’s hotel bill was $36,000.”

Wheeler said the perception that shelters are rundown and overcrowded keeps some women in crisis from making that critical phone call.

Striking a balance between not letting clients withdraw and providing some privacy is a constant challenge when strangers share tight space, Wheeler said.

“People are in life crisis when they arrive here,” Wheeler said. “Imagine that you really want to cry but you don’t want your kids to see you. Where would you go when you are sharing a room with strangers?”

Malveaux said research shows clients don’t stay long enough at shelters to take full advantage of transitional programs.

“To help them heal and regain autonomy, we want them to stay longer,” Malveaux said. “More privacy makes for a better healing environment and it makes it less likely the women return.”

Wheeler said the shelter hasn’t been updated since it opened in 1999.

“We have so many dreams,” she said, laughing. “We are just so happy companies like MMEC are helping us.”


 

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