EDITOR'S NOTE: October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is the second in a series looking at the issue.
There are women who are victims of domestic violence who remain in a dangerous relationship because they feel they have nowhere to go.
For instance: What would happen to you if you were forced to leave your home because of domestic violence?
Would you think to grab your purse with all your identification documents? Would you take the time to pack a change of clothing or your address book? Where would you go? What if you have no friends or family members who could take you in?
In Fort Wayne there is at least one place to go: the YWCA Shelter. Yolanda Davis, the shelter director, said they will turn no one away who has been involved in domestic violence.
Typically a call to 211 will lead someone looking for help to them. When police respond to a 911 call and one of the parties is looking for a safe place, officers have given information about the shelter, as well. A phone call to the YWCA crisis line will lead to an assessment. A representative will meet the person in need at a designated safe location and transport them to the shelter. Police officers have also provided transportation.
The YWCA shelter has the capacity to comfortably house 45 clients. However, the number has been closer to 60 for the past six months, with spare cots and beds able to be set up in some of the lounges to handle the overflow.
Davis said the shelter has seen an increase in numbers ever since the downturn in the economy.
“A lot of our clients lately have had anywhere from two to five kids,” Davis said.
There is no charge for client services at the shelter. Davis said it is expected that clients will come in with very little, so spare clothing and toiletries are kept on hand. Shelter personnel try to make clients as comfortable as possible, although with multiple beds in the rooms there is little privacy.
The shelter is a temporary stop for most clients, with YWCA caseworkers attempting to help figure out next steps and provide education about domestic violence.
“The main thing is case management, advocating for the clients. They might need a protective order, or to find housing, get on food stamps. We make sure they are able to do that,” Davis said.
Women can stay up to 45 days; there is also an extended 90-day program to help with housing and to make sure referrals are met.
The shelter also attempts to help find employment by passing along referrals for jobs or connecting with temporary employment services, while a caseworker will continue to work with the client for a period of time after departure. The YWCA also offers services that attempt to work with people before they leave an unhealthy relationship.
“We really look at that whole person and how do we keep them from having the only alternative be going back to an abuser. We try to connect the dots for someone (in terms of housing support and employment) who is in that relationship as well as helping them navigate the courts systems,” said Deborah Beckman, CEO of the YWCA.
It can take a person up to seven times to finally leave a domestic violence situation.
“We see a lot of repeat clients; when they come through that door, I treat them the same way I did the first time they came. That person has to be in charge and make their decision to finally leave that relationship,” Davis said.
“People should be treated equally no matter who, what, when, or where. My dad always said if you have to argue and fight with someone, that is not a relationship you need to be in,” Davis said.
The YWCA had a total of 4,209 crisis and referral calls between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2012.
In 2011 the shelter served 718 clients, with 589 of those clients victims of domestic violence. A total of 311 were adults; 278 were children.