It seems like just a few months ago when I pulled up to the Citgo on Fordem Avenue and saw cutout figures against a chain link fence, guarding a messy construction site. The tableaux depicted a family seeking shelter from domestic violence, in a solid purple that is the color Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) uses to represent its organization.
Behind that chain link fence, construction workers have been building a new a state-of-the-art shelter for victims of domestic violence in Dane County.
As someone who has worked in domestic violence prevention, and has witnessed friends and family suffer abuse at the hands of loved ones, I feel a sense of pride that our community has stepped up to help create a facility worthy of the DAIS mission.
Now drive or bike past the location and you'll see a gleaming new building -- though it isn't quite finished -- a shelter that will greatly expand the ability of DAIS to keep families safe from the plague of violence that so many face.
According to Shannon Barry, executive director of DAIS, this new shelter will be fully operational by August 1. She has been working tirelessly for the past five years to champion the project, including spearheading a $7 million capital campaign to get it started. DAIS still needs to raise another $1 million to open the shelter, which they're doing via a campaign called "Just a Million Miles from HOME."
Every time I've talked to Barry about the need for this type of shelter in Dane County, I've felt frustrated and sad to learn how people's lives are in danger due to a lack of resources. She told me in an email that approximately one in four women and one in ten men will be the victim of physical or sexual abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. Locally, that adds up to about 3,000 reported incidents per year. But Barry says national research shows that less than one-fourth of domestic violence is every reported to law enforcement, so that figure is more like 12,000 incidents.
The group's current shelter has just 5,000 square feet, which cannot come close to meeting regional need. "We are full one-hundred percent of the time with a few overflow families in hotels. Our waiting list is typically around 30-50 people a night. Some nights we have had up to 80 people. Even to get on the wait list, a victim has to be screened as being in a potentially lethal situation by her or his batterer," explains Barry.
The new shelter will have 35,000 square feet, and will include 56 beds, children's space, respite space, donated art, and even temporary shelter for pets that would be left in danger by staying with an abuser after victims have fled.
And instead of tucking the shelter into an undisclosed location, the new shelter will be secure but out in the open. That's a change, and one that DAIS considered carefully. Barry says the new facility will have tight security.
"The neighbors tend to keep a close eye out and batterers, who don't want to be known for who they are, tend to show up less at public facilities -- because showing up admits a certain level of culpability," she says.
Finally, Barry says the choice of location has symbolic meaning too.
"This building will serve as a beacon to victims and survivors and will say, 'This community cares about you. You are worthy of support, love, healing and safety. The violence wasn't your fault and we honor you.' It also sends a strong message to batterers that this community believes what they are doing is wrong and that we will care for those they hurt."