West Women’s and Children–A Shelter in a Storm

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Tucked away on a tree-lined street, in a neighborhood marked by gracious homes, the West Women’s and Children’s Shelter provides a shelter in a time of storm­literally–for women and children who are victims of domestic violence. While more than 500 are assisted there each year; another 300 have to be turned away every month due to lack of space.

The two-building complex, housed in a former hospital, contains an emergency shelter, transitional housing facility and children’s program.

According to Program Coordinator Pat Mohr, the shelter seeks to break the cycle of domestic violence and provide a place of healing–for both women and children. “Most of the children here have had extreme violence in their lives,” she said. “Some have seen murders or have been at home when drug raids have occurred. Some have been physically and sexually abused themselves.” Since families can be in the transitional housing component for up to two years, children can have two years of therapeutic programming. “Two years can make a significant impact on kids,” said Mohr. “For a 4-year-old, that’s half a lifetime.”

In the emergency shelter, room is available for nine “single” (without children) women and two families. They may stay up to 28 days and receive counseling, food, and clothing. The transitional housing provides room for 20 “single” women and six families, with a maximum stay of 24 months. Clients may receive life planning, counseling, and court advocacy as well.

There are five women’s shelters in Portland, and they work together to meet the women’s needs. West Women’s, for example, provides clothes for its own and the others’ women, and keeps a good supply of clothing appropriate for job searching. Volunteers provide important assistance at the shelter–from those who have shown up every year for 10 years to help manage the clothes, to Charlie, who is the mainstay of appliance repairs and has volunteered his skills for the last 10 years. The 1500 meals served each month at West Women’s all come from donated goods. Welfare reform has added complexity, however, to the program. With the “working poor” needing assistance, there is now less food available at food banks.

And society is changing as well. “Needs are more complicated now,” said Mohr. “They are more multi-problematic. We’ve got second generation drug users, and we now need two full-time case workers to work with the women and help them plan.” Even so, West Women’s remains a place of hope…and a shelter in life’s storms.

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