Evansville domestic violence shelter one of six in Indiana trying new management plan
By Jessie Higgins
EVANSVILLE— An Evansville domestic violence shelter is one of the first in the state to test a new type of shelter management where residents no longer follow predetermined rules during their stays.
The Albion Bacon Fellows Center threw out its rule book shortly before the new year, joining six other Indiana domestic violence shelters, and a growing number nationwide, to embrace a new approach.
“We know (the women) are coming from all walks of life, some have experienced horrific trauma,” said Candise Perry, Albion’s executive director. “To come into a shelter and live under rules, when they’ve already been living by arbitrary rules to survive is not the right transition.”
Albion’s new model focuses on individual case management, rather than rule enforcement. The shelter workers still ask residents to be courteous and respectful of the shared living space, but no longer punish residents for violating specific rules.
“What do we really need in place to maintain structure?” Perry said. “What are those things we can really work out with communication, conversation and community building? Before we had a rule book. It’s more a hospitality booklet now: What can you expect while you’re here. How we are going to serve you.”
Albion, like most shelters, previously operated under a demerit system. Whenever a resident violated a rule, she received a demerit. Violating a curfew, failing to keep her bed area clean, or drinking alcohol would warrant a demerit, for example. After so many demerits, the woman would be asked to leave the shelter.
“Now its not a matter of failing and giving demerits, that’s not a partnership,” Perry said. “What the staff is so excited about is they don’t feel like they’re policing people in the shelter. Now, they’re working with them and partnering with them, and providing a service that is empowering.”
Perry said the new system has given shelter residents a stronger voice, too. They feel safer and more able to take charge of their own lives with the one-on-one attention, and without the top down enforcement, she added. Most of her evidence is anecdotal, and comes from conversations with exit surveys.
In the coming year, Albion and Indiana’s five other pilot shelters will closely track their residents’ success rate upon departure from the shelter and other data. In 2014, the shelters will present their findings to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which will then look for other domestic violence shelters to make similar changes in their shelter protocol.
“We’re really looking to be future mentors to the rest of the state,” Perry said.
The pilot project originated in Missouri. It started as an idea discussed by two colleagues from The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence during a car ride in 2007. Now, Missouri has spent the last half decade implementing what they call their “Project to Reduce Rules in Domestic Violence Shelters.” The concept has spread to other states — and even nations — including Indiana.
“People are staying in the shelters longer, because they’re not getting kicked out,” said Zach Wilson, MCADSV’s development director. “We’re seeing more successful outcomes when people get out. We’re also seeing better outcomes from the exit surveys: How survivors are feeling in the shelter.”
Wilson said the new type of management has reduced the workload for shelter workers, as it has done away with the paperwork involved in documenting rule violations.
Of course, there was an adjustment phase as the workers learned how to function using the new approach, he said.
Albion workers are experiencing some of those same growing pains right now, Perry said. But it will be worth it for everyone in the end.
The women “are coming from trauma,” Perry said. “We don’t want to add to that trauma. We can’t just be a shelter because we have a higher responsibility.”