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.”