Fifteen years ago, a nonprofit set out to change the way survivors of domestic violence are treated; today DC SAFE supports and empowers thousands of survivors. “SAFE” stands for Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment. Michelle Sewell, Crisis Shelter Director at DC SAFE, describes their process, “We sit with the survivor, talk through the issues, discuss the outcome they would like to see.” Then DC SAFE works to make that outcome a reality. They may supply counseling services. Assist with a temporary restraining order. Organize a locksmith. Buy a bus or plane ticket out of town. “If it’s in our budget and bandwidth, we act on it.”
“This is the only city crisis shelter in Washington, D.C. If someone calls at 2 a.m., a live person answers, ready to walk the caller through their choices, through the available resources.”
Often clients need immediate alternative shelter, both for themselves and their children.
“Some people stay one night while other plans are put in place. Others stay as long as 20 days. We don’t discharge anyone without a safety plan,” Sewell explains. Currently, DC SAFE has 10 apartment units to accommodate their clients. “We have to prioritize the most extreme cases.” Now, with a $1.4 million construction loan from BlueHub, a new 30-unit apartment building will expand their capacity. The new apartments will be completely equipped, from furniture to dish towels. They will also be private. “When you are dealing with trauma, it’s not the time to be sharing space with strangers,” Sewell notes. The units are designed to be flexible, with retracting walls that create expanded space for larger families. “It’s not unusual for us to get a family of six or eight.”
It’s not just physical violence; domestic violence disrupts everything in your life — safety, housing, your bank account, public benefits, family support structures. And it can happen to anyone, any gender, any class, any race. We are here for them all, 24/7.”
In BlueHub, DC SAFE has found more than financing; they have found an ally. “From the beginning, we have been impressed with BlueHub’s mission-centered commitment to the future impact of the new building. While our relationship is financial in nature, it has been far from transactional. We see BlueHub as a true partner in our work to ensure safety and self-determination for survivors of domestic violence in Washington, D.C.,” says Bridget Claborn, DC SAFE’s Development and Communications Director.
Currently, demand is stretching DC SAFE’s services. “We have 72,000 people in our database. We are actively working with 150 people at most times. Our shelter is always full; the fact that we have an overflow hotel says it all,” says Sewell.
Now, for 30 families at a time, there will be a safe, welcoming home where they can regroup, heal and focus on their next steps.