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 charitable donations.
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 relationships.
- 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 partners."
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: http://www.shelterfromthestorm.com/-index.htm
Additionally it has a crisis hotline which is always covered by at least two persons.
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 other things.
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 being followed.
- 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.