February 11, 2022

New St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities program gives shelter to victims of abuse

Shown here is the headquarters of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany. On Feb. 1, the agency launched a transitional shelter and rapid rehousing program for victims of domestic violence once their immediate danger has passed. (Photo courtesy of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities)

Shown here is the headquarters of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany. On Feb. 1, the agency launched a transitional shelter and rapid rehousing program for victims of domestic violence once their immediate danger has passed. (Photo courtesy of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities)

By Natalie Hoefer

In 2018, the only domestic violence shelter for women in New Albany closed its doors.

That same day, Mark Casper received a call from a local police officer with an urgent situation.

“He had a woman who needed shelter immediately,” the agency director of St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities in New Albany recalled. “He said her husband would be out [of jail] in one day and was looking to kill her. [The officer] said, ‘You guys have to take her.’ But we had to turn her away. We didn’t have the security in place to handle a situation like that.”

Since then, the organization’s staff noticed more and more women checking the box for “experiencing domestic violence” on the agency’s in-take form.

The number “went from 14% to 56% in the last three years,” said Casper.

The organization could refer victims in immediate danger of abuse to shelters in Louisville and Salem. “But we found that there needed to be a next step of housing options for these individuals once the crisis had subsided, … a transitional shelter and rental assistance for additional support while [abuse victims] are struggling to get back on their feet,” he said.

With a few years’ planning, help from local organizations and a $133,000 yearly-renewable grant, the agency is addressing that need.

On Feb. 1, St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities opened its new, domestic violence transitional shelter and rapid rehousing program.

The program “fits our mission and skill set, from the staff we have in place to the resources and buildings we’ve been blessed with,” said Casper.

‘There is this other layer of need’

The program offers two services: transitional housing for those needing a place to stay, and rapid rehousing—such as rental assistance or working with landlords.

Casper described different scenarios, noting that one woman might have gotten her abuser to leave, “but he [brought in] 60% of the income and she can’t pay the rent.

“Or maybe her boyfriend kicked her out and she’ll be on the street—we may house her two-to-three months or more. … We can offer help for two years. It might be all rapid rehousing, or living in our shelter, or both.”

For women and families seeking stability after domestic abuse, “the answer isn’t always just housing or increased income,” said Erin Goodlett, St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities’ social services director. For these women and children, “There is this other layer of need, and it takes time for that need to unwind.”

Abuse isn’t always physical, she noted.

“It could be power asserted through finances, custody of children, isolation. … The goal may not be to increase income but maybe to prepare for getting a job because a woman has been affected by a person putting her down.

“For those who need transitional housing [due to domestic abuse], they need a 24-hour staff for healing from the layers of trauma that a normal housing shelter may not be focused on.”

‘We can move people based on need’

St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities created its new program in partnership with the Center for Women and Families crisis shelter in Louisville and the New Albany-based Homeless Coalition of Southern Indiana (HCSI).

Once the immediate danger from violence has passed, women and families at the Louisville shelter are referred to St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities’ program.

“But you don’t have to be referred,” said Casper. “Some people are just tired of a situation.”

The service starts with a simple call, said Goodlett.

“We fill out an intake form over the phone,” she said. “If we have the space and availability, they would be asked to come in. … The intention is to tailor [services] to their specific family’s needs and see how we can move forward for them.”

No construction was needed for the new program. Instead, the organization turned to one of its existing resources—buildings used for its sliding-scale Affordable Supportive Housing (ASH) program.

Seven units in one of the ASH buildings were used as a quarantine wing during the pandemic for infected residents of the agency’s pregnancy and emergency homeless shelter programs.

“As COVID hopefully comes to an end, we don’t have to tie up that space for quarantine,” said Casper. “We’d been looking for how we can best use that resource once COVID was over.”

With that space, he anticipates being able to house seven-to-eight single women or small families—“a mom and a child or two”—in need of transitional shelter due to abuse.

It’s also because of the organization’s resources that there is flexibility in transitional housing for abuse victims.

“If we have a whole lot of domestic violence [clients] waiting to get into a unit, they could stay at our emergency shelter for a bit,” said Casper. “That’s the neat thing about doing multiple programs—we can move people based on the current need.”

Not having to build a new structure helped make the new program financially feasible. So did the annually-renewable $133,000 grant the agency received from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

The grant will help pay for St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities staff to receive training from the Center for Women and Families.

It will also help fund “some physical things, like upgrading security on doors, adding cameras, fencing,” said Casper.

‘As long as there’s the need, we’re glad to be here’

It takes more than cameras, locks and fences to care for abused women and children.

Consequently, the staff will use the same trauma-informed care for clients of the domestic violence program as they do for the women and children of their other programs.

“It’s easy for a lot of us to say life’s tough, just put your head down and go to work,” said Casper. Instead, trauma-informed care “is a philosophy that you listen, treat them and talk to them in way that shows you understand the trauma they’ve suffered.”

The agency has used this approach for several years, said Goodlett.

“It lets us see how to act so we don’t add to their trauma,” she explained. “It allows the victim to have a lot of choice in speaking to what their needs are.”

Those needs can be met by other services St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities offers.

For instance, through Marie’s Community Distribution Program, they can obtain free baby food, diapers, formula, clothing, blankets, household goods, appliances and furniture.

“I expect clients using the rapid rehousing program will need that [resource] to furnish their apartment,” said Goodlett.

The agency also offers counseling services to all of its clients and refers women to other local counselors “so once they get out on their own, they have other relationships for ongoing support to ease into the next stage in life,” she added.

The program has already received its first client, and “all is well,” said Goodlett.

She admits “it’s heartbreaking to see this increased need” brought about by domestic violence. But she said she is “proud of this agency that flexes with the needs of the community” and grateful for the partnership it has formed with the Center for Women and Children and HCSI to address this problem.

Casper agreed.

“You wish there wasn’t a need [for this new service], but clearly there is,” he said.

“I’m excited that we’re going to be able to help a big unmet need in the community. We always say we like to work ourselves out of business. But as long as there’s the need, we’re glad to be here.”

(For more information on St. Elizabeth Catholic Charities’ services and programs or to make a donation, go to www.stecharities.org or call 812-949-7305.)

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