On a Tuesday evening, I hopped in my car, turned on my GPS device and drove to Chambersburg. I had been invited to take a tour of a shelter for women who have been victims of domestic violence. The shelter is called Women in Need.
I sat on the sidewalk, having arrived a half hour early. Much to my surprise, the address I had been given was for the shelter’s office. The shelter itself is in a secret location. The person who came to meet me drove me there in her car.
I noticed right away that the stairs leading up to the building were not in compliance with handicap regulations. They were steep and required some effort to ascend. Inside, the space available left much to be desired. The washer and drier sat next to the oven, so that people had to do their laundry in the kitchen, including the employees when washing the linens used by outgoing residents. The ceiling was often so low in places that I banged my head from standing up straight.
Directly across from the kitchen sat a woman with a cast on her leg. Children milled about her, trying to maintain a positive outlook but not really sure what to feel about their new situation. The shelter did have a playroom for the children, the only place where interaction between the mother and her children could take place.
The bedrooms were small, often smaller than the college dormitories. Sometimes they fit four people in there, crowding up the space so much that the only thing a person could do in the bedroom was lay in bed. The bathroom was so small that the shower unit hid behind the open door. The shelter did have a storage area, though it was in the basement. An old freezer sat in the basement, which contained meat the shelter purchased in bulk quantities. There were no televisions anywhere, and I didn’t see signs that any of the women at the shelter had their own computers.
It became quickly apparent that this is, in actuality, a homeless shelter. The women who have left their partners as a result of domestic abuse now have no place to live. They are often afraid to go to their families for fear of their partners finding out about it.
If there is a ray of hope for these women, it is that the shelter provides them a safe environment in which they can start to get their lives back together. Doing so while taking care of multiple children isn’t always easy, but they can at least feel free from the threat of physical violence while there.