Hotel-stay program expands emergency shelter for domestic violence victims

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			Hotel-stay program expands emergency shelter for domestic violence victims
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Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic violence shelters in the Twin Cities have been consistently full. Now, after years of turning away those in need, a St. Paul-based nonprofit recently received funding to address the shortage.

Starting Saturday, Women’s Advocates will begin providing four rooms at a time for up to 10 days at Twin Cities hotels for adults and their families in need of emergency shelter.

“It happens frequently; someone is in crisis and we don’t have room,” said Estelle Brouwer, the executive director of Women’s Advocates.

The onset of the pandemic led to a spike in domestic violence around the country, leading more people to seek the services of shelters like Women’s Advocates.

“When some of the social stressors from the pandemic start to abate, that’s when we think the demand would start to go down,” said Ruby Nguyen, associate professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. “(In Minnesota), we are systematically short on shelter beds. So no, I don’t think that this demand will go away anytime soon.”

The hotel-stay program was granted $20,000 through the American Rescue Plan, which is expected to fully fund it for about a year.

PROVIDING ROOMS FOR THOSE IN NEED

If the program accomplishes the organization’s goal of providing safe temporary shelter for those dealing with domestic violence issues, they hope to apply for more grants and seek private donations to continue and expand the program long-term.

While the hotel-stay program is new to Women’s Advocates, the organization has experience with the hotel model from shifts they had to make during the pandemic lockdown. Between May 2020 and January 2021, the entire shelter, which is based within three old homes on Grand Avenue, moved operations to a single hotel to prevent the spread of the virus among residents and staff.

“We really learned a lot about how to do it, how to how to continue our advocacy here with people who were living in a hotel space, how to make sure we were getting them fed,” Brouwer said.

Brouwer and Hustedt said they faced challenges with resident safety after the location shift, one of the biggest concerns with the new program. However, because they will be working with over 50 hotels instead of just one, they hope people will “be a little bit more invisible,” Brouwer said.

“There’s an experimental element to it,” said Jacob Hustedt, Women’s Advocates director of development and communications. “But we know there’s the need for safe spaces. I think the best way to do that is to get victim-survivors in a safe space and then listen to their needs.”

HELPING MORE DIVERSE PEOPLE

The hotel-stay effort is one of the organization’s latest to improve accessibility to their services. In spite of the name, which has stuck since the nonprofit’s formation in 1972, Women’s Advocates serves people regardless of gender identity.

However, Brouwer and Hustedt acknowledged that due to the intimate nature of the shelter’s setting, people within the LGBTQ community have expressed feeling uncomfortable in the space. She hopes the hotel program will offer more flexibility to diverse people, who will have more privacy and the flexibility to request the location of the hotel shelter.

“We can do outreach in the Twin Cities that would cater to queer folks, and we just don’t do that directly right now because of our spatial limitations,” Hustedt said. “So if we take that limitation away, I have lots of ideas to expand into more diverse populations.”

Those staying at hotels will be given the opportunity to work closely with advocates to find more permanent housing during their stay. Not all shelters offer this level of outreach, which Nguyen said is incredibly important to prevent people from returning to an abusive environment.

“The immediacy of shelter for adults and children who are at risk of harm is of utmost importance,” Nguyen said. “It may take a while for the person to be able to find a place that they can afford, especially in this economy and in this rental market.”

Although the hotel program will boost the number of people Women’s Advocates is able to serve, Hustedt said it likely will still not meet the full and immediate need for shelter space in the Twin Cities.

“I’m assuming (the hotel rooms) will be full at all times because we are always full,” Hustedt said. “But we can add more to this. That’s the thing; infrastructure is no longer the issue, so if we find more funding, we can increase capacity and expand the program.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, visit or call 1-800-799-7233.

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