NEW ALBANY — The Center for Women and Families is closing its domestic violence and sexual assault emergency shelter, but the move should actually increase the presence of the nonprofit and the reach of its services in Southern Indiana, President and CEO Elizabeth Wessels-Martin said.

“While we have been able to serve many people in shelter over the years, we have been limited by shelter capacity, and we believe this transition will allow us to help more people who may be in danger…,” Wessels-Martin said in a news release.

The shelter, which had 159 residents in 2016 and 153 in 2017, will be phased out beginning Nov. 1 and CWF will begin implementing mobile advocacy.

In an interview, Wessels-Martin explained that running the brick and mortar shelter costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year when, in reality, most victims do not want to use a shelter.

“We know 75 percent of victims don’t seek out shelter. They say ‘I won’t go to a shelter, I’ll stay in a car before I go to a shelter,’” Wessels-Martin said.

“People think shelter is the only answer and it is not. There are many, many more options for women that leads to self-sufficiency and leads to developing a skill set they haven’t been able to develop because of their situation,” she said.

CWF will provide the same services, including, but not limited to, safety planning, legal advocacy, transportation and counseling, but rather than having clients come to the shelter for those, they’ll offer flexible meeting locations. In 2016, 357 individuals utilized these services and in 2017, 280 did. Those numbers do not include calls to the crisis line, hospital advocacy visits and walk-ins.

“We are barely scratching the surface in terms of the number of people who need our services. To pour money into the building and the overhead ... it doesn’t make good sense in terms of caring for people,” Wessels-Martin said.

Rather than putting victims in a shelter, CWF will offer hotel vouchers, something that is already budgeted for the current fiscal year Wessels-Martin said. Sometimes, a victim will want to get out of town and to their family, and in that case CWF will buy them a bus ticket to where they need to go. Other options — such as the shelter CWF operates in Louisville — are on the table, too. The most important thing, Wessels-Martin said, is that victims will not be turned away or referred to general population homeless shelters.

Wessels-Martin welcomes discussion on the move, saying “Ask us questions. come to the Breakfast of Brilliance … We are prepared to sit down and have some hard discussions and help people understand.”

The Breakfast of Brilliance is at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 4, at The Grand. The gathering will include guest speakers from Phoenix, Ariz., who have used the mobile advocacy program.

Erin Walden is the education reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at erin.walden@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2152. Follow her on Twitter: @ErinWithAnEr.

Education Reporter

Erin Walden is the education reporter for the News and Tribune. She studied journalism at the University of Cincinnati. Send tips and story ideas to erin.walden@newsandtribune.com.

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