Coachella Valley Shelter From the Storm
I visited the administrative center for the Palm Desert based Shelter From
the Storm on November 11, 2009, and met with its Executive Director, Lynn
Moriarty, for approximately 90 minutes. Ms. Moriarty was extremely generous
with her valuable time, open about the shelter's policies and functioning,
and knowledgeable about its extensive facilities. She has directed the
Shelter for more than 15 years, almost since its inception.
Shelter from the Storm opened with an emergency shelter of 30 beds in 1993,
a staff of 25 employees and paraprofessionals, and two outreach offices.
It is the only domestic violence shelter operating in the Coachella Valley
(Banning to the west, Indio to the east). It has enjoyed tremendous community
support and phenomenal growth since that time. Ms. Moriarty reports it
is one of the largest and most comprehensive of the more than 2,000 women's
shelter facilities that exist today throughout the United States, with
informal affiliations with a number of these other organizations which
becomes particularly useful when physical danger to a women and her children
becomes so acute that they must be relocated to another community.
The agency had expanded to over 45 employees placed at ten distinct locations
in and about the Coachella Valley, but recent financial limitations have
forced some cutbacks. The Shelter includes a psychiatrist, a M.F.T. clinician,
a M.S.W. clinician, and a Chemical Dependency Counselor. Shelter From
the Storm is a 501(3)(c) non profit corporation which receives grant monies
from various federal, state, and local governmental agencies and private
Shelter From The Storm's mission statement includes providing comprehensive
services to victims of domestic violence - "professionally, ethically,
and compassionately." Its vision includes continuing to bring to
victims of domestic violence who are residents of the Coachella Valley
the highest quality of service and human warmth, and to continue to increase
the scope of volume of its services. In practice, it offers a wonderfully
diversified and complementary constellation of services.
Shelter From the Storm offers the following facilities and services:
- The original emergency shelter now includes up to 72 beds, plus cribs,
in some fifteen bedrooms each containing up to four bunk beds and a bathroom.
There is a large common area and an industrial sized kitchen where the
women and mothers cook for themselves, children, and each other. Some
70 to 75 percent of the population is children, and many are infants since
intimate partner abuse often begins during pregnancy. There are two on-site
schools for children aged pre-K to twelfth grade, and a preschool and
teachers o staff. SFTS is one of the relatively few shelters that will
accept children and teens at age 12 and above. Given the preferred demographic
of a ratio of 30 beds per 250,000 people in a community population, the
emergency shelter is adequate to support the current permanent Coachella
Valley population which was 410,000 persons according to a Palm Springs
Destination Marketing Analysis in 2005. The population is projected to
be 478,939 by 2010, and 607,826 by 2020. The Shelter boasts no waiting
lists. The average stay of women coming into this shelter is 45 days.
- There are seven Outreach Centers in the cities of Coachella, Desert Hot
Springs, Indio, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, and Palm Springs.
- In 2000 the Edra Blixeth Community Counseling Center/Business Office was
opened. Available to the entire Coachella Valley, the Center provides
professional, individual and group counseling, case management, advocacy
and crisis intervention services to abused women and children who have
completed an emergency shelter stay or to community members who are not
currently in need of emergency shelter. Some educational services are
offered to male victims of domestic violence at this facility.
- The Florence Ridgon Long Term Transitional Housing Program offers a twenty-unit,
two bedroom campus (128 beds) for women and children who have resided
in an emergency shelter and who require additional time to attain emotional
and financial sell-sufficiency. Its goal is to serve as a "healing
'bridge' between the traumas suffered as a result of abuse and
for re-entering the community as a productive and stable family unit."
To remain these women must work and/or attend vocational training and
must save at least 30% of their incomes so that they will have a financial
foundation for independence upon leaving. This housing is available for
up to two years for women and their (mostly) pre-adolescent children.
- The Indian Wells Medical Clinic at the Emergency Shelter provides treatment
for injuries, primary care, acute and preventive pediatric care, adult
medical care, and gynecological care for residents.
- The Teen Dating Violence Prevention program is offered to schools at no
cost and is facilitated by specially trained SFTS staff. SFTS believes
is must be proactive if it hopes to help future generations maintain violence-free
- The Helen Reinsch Legal Clinic. This has historically provided desperately
needed legal assistance and representation for shelter clients, but the
availability of services has recently been negatively impacted by budgetary
constraints in today's economic climate.
Many of the women who find the Shelter learn of it from police, who are
mandated to carry cards in Spanish and English, or from emergency rooms,
which are similarly mandated. Some learn of the shelter through non-emergency
hospital and medical referrals. There are a number of referrals from "private
Ms. Moriarty noted that there has been an increase in the number of women
contacting the shelter from poor and disadvantaged populations, those
challenged with fewer resources, and lower social and economic groups
including the less educated. This is particularly the case as the number
of available psychiatric facilities has dwindled to almost nothing. For
example, there are no acute psychiatric beds available within the Coachella Valley.
Shelter From the Storm has its informational website at:
Additionally it has a crisis hotline which is always covered by at least
SFTS receives from between 2,500 and 3,000 calls yearly. The hotline receivers
are trained to do crisis assessments for suicidality and acute physical
injury, requiring immediate referrals to hospital emergency rooms, among
To be admitted to the emergency shelter women victims must meet certain
criteria. Depending upon the emotional status and background of the victim,
interviews may be completed as quickly as within 10 minutes. These criteria include:
- They must be victims of intimate partner violence.
- They must be physically able to take care of themselves and their children,
although women with disabilities will not be turned away.
- They cannot be actively using alcohol or illegal substances.
- They cannot be seriously mentally ill.
- They cannot be a danger to themselves or others.
- They must begin from "a safe place" where they can escape without
- If taking prescribed medications, they are asked to bring these with them.
- "Shelter hoppers," i.e., women without resources who are seeking
to avail themselves of a shelter and food, may be discouraged if they
do not qualify as intimate partner victims.
Upon meeting these criteria, the women are told to drive to a nearby location
so that a meeting may be arranged at a drop off point. In some cases the
women are given directions to the shelter itself, where their vehicles
are hidden from view. The key concern is not just the safety of the new
client, but of all the women in shelter and in ensuring the continued
secrecy of the location(s). Once the women arrive, any children are immediately
given a toy or animal as a transitional object. Then, case management
begins. The Shelter emphasizes the need for women to have or to develop
a plan quickly, and to utilize all available resources which are available
and which they are directed to.
If as sometimes occurs a woman returns to the batterer, she will not be
readmitted if it is determined that there is any threat to the safety
of the shelter itself - it infrequently happens that a woman has disclosed
where she was during her absence. The safety of the facility, and of the
resident group, must remain paramount.
Author: Thurman W. Arnold, III, C.F.L.S.