Facebook Twitter


Katie Lujan is a carpenter. Usually she is content to make her mark with a hammer or a saw. But last summer, building a domestic-violence shelter, she felt compelled to take a pencil to the wood.

"There is somebody who cares," she wrote, on the studs. And "God be with you." On the framework behind the bedroom closets, before the sheetrock went up, Lujan wrote, "You can hang your clothes in my closet any day."She's only an apprentice carpenter. She hasn't worked on many buildings. But she knows the South Valley Sanctuary will be her most meaningful job. She lived with violence for 18 years, before she went to the YWCA shelter, before she got out of her marriage.

Lujan knows a woman has nothing unless she has a safe place to lay her head at night. She built the Sanctuary "with every piece of sweat I had," she says.

It seems a lot of Utahns put their sweat, energy, money, time and devotion into the South Valley Sanctuary - and into The Shelter in Davis County.

These two shelters are the state's newest. They bring to 16 the total number of women and children's shelters in the state. (Men and their children, who can also be victims of domestic violence, are sheltered in motels.)

The shelter opened in December. The Sanctuary opened in early February. Both shelters were needed, but both were hard to come by, say those who oversaw their completion.

In both cases, one or two people started talking about the need. In both cases a dedicated group came together to attend endless planning meetings, beg for money, lobby for support, start construction - only to face the specter of a half-built shelter when funds ran out.

IN DAVIS COUNTY, a decade ago, Faye Purdy knew what was missing. Purdy was a junior high home economics teacher concerned about troubled students. Purdy did research, wanting to know what help was available. She learned there was no place for victims of family violence to go except Ogden or Salt Lake City. "We didn't have any recourse," Purdy says. "Victims couldn't even get counseling here, except through County Mental Health."

How to remedy the situation? "I just got busy," Purdy says. She helped start the Davis Citizen's Coalition Against Violence.

Perhaps because her husband had been a county commissioner and the mayor of Kaysville, Purdy understood the political process. She knew ordinary citizens could start a program, fund a building. What she didn't realize is how hard it would be to convince ordinary citizens that there was a problem, that there actually was abuse behind the doors in their tidy neighborhoods. "It's a deep secret," Purdy says.

Meanwhile, in West Jordan, a police sergeant named Gary Cox was in charge of the department's new victim-advocacy program. Officers reported to him on how it was going: They could get a woman and children out of the crisis - but had no place to take them. The YWCA was often at capacity, Cox says.

Even when there was a room at the YWCA, a woman might say downtown Salt Lake was too far away - too far from her children's school, from her church, from her relatives.

In 1992, Cox went to the police chief and said "We need a shelter." He started looking for help. Penny Atkinson, currently the West Jordan assistant city manager, became chairwoman of the board of trustees because of a question some schoolchildren asked her during an interview. "What would be the worst thing that could happen to you?" they asked. She said, "Being afraid to go home at night." She started wondering if any of them were afraid.

Cox and the others started looking for grants and volunteers. Word got out. People called. Even an architect, Steve Crane, volunteered his company's services.

With land bought with federal grants, state funds for construction, a promise of money for operations, charitable donations and the hope of more donations, Atkinson recalls, "We started construction in June of 1995. By November 1996 we'd completely run out of money. I was not going to give up. I went to the press and said, `Can you help get some awareness?' And JTPA actually called me."

Under the Job Training Partnership Act, the state had a grant to train women in the trades. So now the shelter had construction workers.

There was still the matter of money for materials and to hire a professional to supervise. Atkinson went to the cities. West Jordan pledged $100,000. Sandy, Murray, other cities joined in. The loan was in default, but First Security Bank stepped up and took it over. Because there was no one else, Atkinson found herself in charge of the budget. Gary Cox, the policeman, found himself general contractor.

At about the same time, the Davis County project also ran out of money. The board voted to scale back - from 36 beds down to 28 (with an overflow space for four more bodies on sleeper sofas in the living room.)

There was no time to get discouraged, and even if they'd been prone to exhaustion, the shelter organizers were bouyed by public support. As soon as people learned the construction was stalled, they mailed in money: $5 bills or checks for $5,000. Schoolchildren raised hundreds at a time, for both shelters. Churches, charities and businesses, too, called with donations.

When it became clear the two shelters would go forth, then the quilters began. Church groups and schoolchildren took up needles. Not only do bright, handmade covers adorn each bed and crib, but the closets and storerooms of both shelters are stocked as well. Clothes, canned goods, pots and pans were also donated. There is enough to give a woman a bit of a start if, after the 30 days she is allowed to stay in the shelter, she decides not to go home.

If a woman chooses to go back home, no one will judge her, explains Judy Kasten Bell, director of The Shelter. "What we hope we do is provide a place where people can rest and learn what options there are. If they think the best thing is to return home, then we will support them. If they want to move on, we will do everything we can. Sometimes it's hard not to want to rescue people. Especially when there are children," Bell says.

Bell reports an unusually high percent of The Shelter's first clients - nearly half - have chosen not to go back home. Some left the state. Some moved into apartments. (Typically, Bell says, a woman has to leave at least a half dozen times before she leaves for good. She surmises many of The Shelter's clients had been in another shelter several times before The Shelter opened.)

The Shelter is a medium-size women's shelter. At 60 beds, the Sanctuary is the state's largest shelter. Both provide the same services - counseling for women and children, job referrals, a way to get medical help, an attorney to file a protective order, victim advocates to accompany her to court, transportation, child care . . . Not everything is done at the shelter. While more established shelters might own a van and have a day-care center, the new shelters offer bus passes and cab fare and pay for child care at a nearby center.

Susan Porter, manager at The Shelter, says the goal of the 30-day stay is to raise a woman's self-esteem. Cathleen Blagay, director of the South Valley Sanctuary says they are lucky to be located near a big city, with access to a wide range of victim advocate and social services. "We put women in contact with outside agencies and they can continue services with those agencies once they leave the shelter."

Bell predicts both new shelters will be full next summer - joining the Ogden YCC (Your Community Connection) and the Salt Lake YWCA in trying to find room for just one or two more.

But for now, the new shelters are filling gradually, giving the new staff a chance to plan and work and see where the gaps are.

AT THE SHELTER last week, all but three rooms were full. Everything was running smoothly. More than 50 volunteers - each with 25 hours of crisis training - took turns working at the front desk and on the crisis phone.

The counselor, Jill Tooker, was in her office talking to a young woman who wanted to find a job.

Everything was tidy. There were lists of rules on the wall in the playroom: Mom is responsible for you so check in with her when you want something . . . Bedtime is by 9 p.m. if you are 12 or younger . . . There will be some fun activities during the week; they will be posted . . . ; and menus posted on the wall in the kitchen.

`It is a comfortable place," explained Bell. The women who stay there are expected to keep it that way. They meet together every morning to divide up the household chores. They are encouraged to cook together in the evenings. They are expected to follow the menus so that they and their children will have nutritious meals.

In short, they are having a healthy home life, if only for a few weeks. It's a lifestyle they might want to continue, once they are out on their own.

When they were planning the South Valley Sanctuary, Atkinson says, some of the best advice they got was on how to incorporate privacy and peace into the design. Private bathrooms for each room make it more comfortable for families with older boys. (Some shelters don't take teenage sons because other women and girls don't feel comfortable sharing a bathroom with them.) The South Valley Sanctuary also has a common area separate from the TV room, and there are restrictions on the number of hours the television can be on. Families are thus encouraged to spend time talking.

WHEN A WOMAN comes to one of these two new shelters, she will be terrified. She will be bruised, emotionally as well as physically. If she has children with her, they will be hurting, too. They'll be confused, scared, angry.

The woman will be greeted by volunteers and staff, and she will feel the concern of all she meets. But she won't be meeting all the people who made these shelters possible. She will notice the quilts on the beds, and the wreaths hanging in the halls, and the toys and books and rocking chairs. She might even notice the old desk against the wall in the living room and realize it didn't come from a furniture store but from a grandma's bedroom.

She will see the handiwork and the donations, and get some idea of the scope of these projects. But she'll never meet Faye Purdy, or Gary Cox, or Katie Lujan - or most of the hundreds of people who created these places of shelter.

That's OK. Included in Lujan's scriblings on the studs is this sentence: "I'm there for you whether you know it or not."