August 1, 2023

Mission Moment – Safe Shelter and CHOICES

Fostering Community at YWCA Safe Shelter

It would be hard to talk about YWCA Spokane’s Safe Shelter without talking to Melanie Wilson, Shelter Resource Coordinator, who has been with the agency for over 22 years. When Melanie first started with the agency, she was providing childcare at the shelter. She soon noticed that the shelter lacked art supplies for the kids, so she requested funding for new materials. Soon she had a room full of children intent on making whatever the project was for the day.

“They were just itching to do something and make something,” says Melanie, “I’d always make sure they made something they could take with them because they come with nothing, no toys, but they could make something, keep it, and take it to their room.”

Not long after, Melanie noticed the adult residents were skipping support group. Instead, “they were doing the kids’ crafts and sitting in these little tiny chairs because they were all itching to do something creative too.” Melanie began to infuse the support group with crafts, which dramatically increased participation. They’ve made jewelry, lotion, makeup, and chapstick. Sitting down together for a craft and sharing stories or updates is a way for residents to connect with less pressure.

We also work to help families staying at the shelter create good memories together. Living in a shelter is a stressful time for parents and children. We create opportunities for these families to bond and have fun. We’ve had movie nights, cooking classes, and bingo for our families to enjoy! We’ve provided childcare for younger siblings so parents can have quality one-on-one time with older kids.

Continued Support Through CHOICES

Celebrating How Our Independence Creates Endless Success or CHOICES is YWCA’s shelter aftercare program where residents can apply to stay connected with our shelter and continue to receive various services. CHOICES embodies survivor empowerment as it asks participants how they want to participate, how frequently they want to check in with a shelter staff member (weekly, monthly, etc.?), and how they want to be contacted (text, email, phone call?).

“With CHOICES, we can help them still move forward with their housing goals, even after they move out of our shelter,” explains Melanie. The level of services CHOICES participants can engage with can include supportive listening, emergency clothing resources, and continued support working toward permanent housing. CHOICES participants may also come back to attend the shelter’s support group, financial planning classes, and more.

CHOICES first started in 2022 as a way to provide support and resources to residents after they leave the shelter. Transitioning out of shelter can also be a scary time for residents as they learn to navigate what’s next. Securing permanent housing also takes a long time. We recently had a former shelter resident and CHOICES participant receive their Section 8 voucher after being in services with us for over 300 days.

“It takes a lot of encouragement,” says Melanie. “If somebody else is there to help along the way, it makes it way more successful.”

While CHOICES was originally designed to support former residents, we’ve noticed that returning CHOICES participants have a huge impact on current residents. It came naturally to the CHOICES participants to provide encouragement and peer-to-peer testimony. “They are a success story because they’ve had the backing of someone who was supportive and now they can turn around and be that support in a way to encourage the other clients that come in,” says Melanie.

CHOICES helps set residents up for success. Housing isn’t the end of someone’s journey, but rather the start of a new chapter. At YWCA Spokane, we work with survivors towards their goals and believe that everyone deserves safety and happiness. Our shelter creates intentional space for current and former residents to connect with each other and build a network of support.

Our Safe Shelter

For survivors of domestic violence, leaving is the most dangerous time. A survivor is 70x more likely to be murdered in the weeks after they exit the relationship than at any point in time. There are many reasons why a survivor may stay or return to an abusive relationship with each survivor having their own experiences and barriers to leaving. Learn more about why someone may stay or return to an abusive relationship here. Furthermore, “research shows that it can take approximately 7 attempts before a survivor permanently leaves an abusive partner” (Women Against Abuse).

YWCA’s Safe Shelter is a safe and supportive place for survivors to land while they figure out their next steps. Our primary shelter currently has nine rooms, with families getting their own rooms and two singles in one room. The length of someone’s stay at the shelter varies as residents are on their own journey, some may be with us for a few weeks or several months. The ultimate goal is to get residents into long-term stable housing. During their stay, shelter advocates help them explore options as they navigate their housing crisis.

Our primary shelter is also pet friendly. Over the last year, we’ve welcomed 42 pets spanning a wide variety from dogs and cats to fish, birds, frogs, and hamsters. “Those pets are their best friends,” shares Melanie Wilson, “They’ve been their solid comfort and companion through domestic violence. They’re their support system sometimes.”

Unfortunately, perpetrators may harm pets as a way to maintain power and control over the survivors, causing survivors not to want to leave their pets behind. Being pet friendly is another way we try to reduce barriers for people. Pets help people not feel so isolated and they are another way to make shelter feel more like home.

In the last year, we have provided safe housing to 225 individuals and 119 youth. Since it started, 27 individuals and 15 youth have participated in CHOICES. Our shelter and aftercare program strive to support individuals and families along their journey to permanent housing, fostering empowerment and community among current and former residents.

By: Jemma Riedel-Johnson

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