The new facility doubles the capacity of the previous shelter, which had the lowest number of beds per capita in the state.
For years, Domestic Abuse Intervention Services could house only about 25 victims of domestic abuse each day. That will change on Aug. 1 with the opening of a state-of-the-art facility at 2102 Fordem Ave., which offers 56 beds.
Shannon Barry, executive director of DAIS, says the former shelter had the lowest number of beds per capita in the state. The state average is one emergency bed per 7,500 people, and Madison's provided one per 19,000.
At the old shelter, Barry says, massive waiting lists were a nightly occurrence, forcing staff to prioritize a screening tool to gauge each person's safety considerations.
Barry says that a population the size of Dane County could use around a hundred beds, adding that the new facility could possibly upgrade to 88.
"As an organization, we didn't want to crumble under the weight of something that large," Barry says. "And it's not just about an actual bed."
In addition to the extra beds, the new space offers other necessary upgrades and thoughtful amenities, Barry says. For example, suite-style housing with connecting doors allows flexibility in terms of how many rooms are given to victims and their families. In the old shelter, a four-person family may have been forced to share one bedroom with bunk beds.
"To my knowledge, no other domestic violence program in the state does that," Barry says. "We're unique and cutting-edge in our design."
Tony Gibart, public policy coordinator for Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, commends DAIS for the space it's created.
"It's certainly true that Dane County had a lot of catching up to do given the state of the old shelter," Gibart says. "The shelter that is now opening is wonderful and will be a great benefit to the families."
Much thought was put into the planning process, which lasted over a year. DAIS staff visited other programs and interviewed a number of survivors to get input into how the building could best meet the needs of victims immediately upon entrance.
"We looked at every problem we were faced with in the old facility and worked to address that problem in the new facility," Barry says.
Gibart says this attention to detail is what makes the facility special.
"This comes from years of experience working with and listening to victims about what their needs are, developing their feedback and being thoughtful," he says.
When the planning process began, there were no national best-practice standards detailing how to build a space for domestic violence programming and services, Barry says.
"So we created it from scratch," she says.
A few months after completing its own detailed plan, DAIS discovered an online resource for designing shelters created by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
"Everything they recommended we had done on our own," Barry says.
The facility's location is public knowledge, a new strategy. The former shelter location was not publicized. Barry says this change has been part of a nationwide movement over the past 10 to 15 years.
Gibart says a lack of community understanding in the early days of the domestic-violence-prevention movement meant that a secret location for these services was the safest option.
"Now as we've progressed, having a public location, having the shelter and program be visible, is an additional source of safety," he says.
The building will have extensive security systems, but Barry says the "eyes of the community on the building" will increase safety.
"Now this can be a physical emblem in the community for this issue," he says.
Along with the physical space, Barry says DAIS' programming is “truly exceptional and unique."
"We really want to expand programs as well," Barry says. "Especially our prevention programs that are working to end domestic violence before it starts."
DAIS hosts focus groups to help young men and women navigate the modern meaning of masculinity and femininity.
"From federal statistics we know that most batterers are men, but most men are not batterers," she says. "This program gives men an opportunity to have dialogue about being a healthy, strong man."
Barry says follow-up interviews show that young men who have used DAIS' service become more likely to intervene as bystanders.
She also points to the group's legal advocacy, children's programming, 24-hour help lines, and bilingual staff.
"We're trying to reduce as many barriers as possible," Barry says.
Though DAIS receives city, county, state and federal dollars, Barry says most support comes from fundraising. The organization saw a huge increase during its campaign for the new facility, and she doesn’t want that to stop after it opens.
"A building is only as good as the people who work within it, so we hope this support for us will continue."