This morning, I attended the grand opening of D.C's newest domestic violence shelter, an apartment-style emergency and transitional housing project for women and children affected by violence from family members and intimate partners. Due to the District Alliance for Safe Housing's confidentiality concerns, I can't disclose the exact location of this facility, the neighborhood in which it resides, nor "any information I may hear or become aware of while on the premises about participants, staff, interns and volunteers." (I'm also barred from taking "any pictures of anyone in the facility or the building itself").
Here's what I can tell you: It's really nice!
The housing project's confidentiality concerns, DASH Executive Director Peg Hacskaylo told me last month, are balanced by a desire to keep domestic violence victims connected to their community. "We find that if we attempt to hide the women that we work with, we risk isolating them," Hacskaylo says. So DASH held an open house this morning to give neighbors, developers, and allies a chance to become acquainted with the facilities before residents begin moving in later this month.
Details on the complex: It's a five-story, 47-unit project known as DASH's "Cornerstone Building." Once occupied, the building will house 40 women and children on a "transitional" basis and 21 women and children on an "emergency" basis. Each furnished unit includes a kitchen, bathroom, and individual thermostat; the apartment layouts range from one-room efficiencies for individual women to family-style apartments with two bunk beds, one single bed, and a crib. Dedicated apartments throughout the facility are designed for people with disabilities. The apartments are spacious; several women were overheard marveling at the units' closet space.
Also on-site: A children's play room organized by the Homeless Children's Playtime Project, which provides play space, organized activities, "healthy snacks," and access to several pet goldfish to kids living in the complex. The room will be staffed with volunteers on Saturday mornings to provide programming and childcare. Adult residents will have access to representatives from DASH's Housing Resource Center, who help counsel victims of domestic violence on their housing rights and aid in the search for permanent shelter. DASH is hoping for additional funding to develop the facility's roof; developers imagine a green space and (fenced-in!) children's playground.
Getting a jump-start on welcoming the shelter to the neighborhood this morning: Councilmembers Kwame Brown and Harry Thomas Jr. joined an otherwise overwhelmingly female group of visitors in opening the facility's doors (I spotted dozens of women and only a handful of men). On a chalkboard in the apartment's community room, visitors wrote welcome messages for the building's new tenants: "Welcome to the next chapter of your life. Enjoy it," one visitor wrote. "You inspire me. Take good care," submitted another. "You must be the lukiest people in the world now that your here!" wrote one visitor, adding: "I'm eight years old."