White Earth women's shelter nears completion
Domestic violence and sexual assaults have been a proverbial slap in the face for tribal members on the White Earth Reservation for generations.
Now, advocates fighting the problem are seeing a light at the end of a very dark, scary tunnel.
Workers with DOVE (a White Earth program serving abuse victims) and the White Earth Housing Department are nearing completion of the reservation's very first women's shelter.
"It's something we've needed here for a very long time; we've been dreaming about it for years," said Shelter Coordinator Loretta Gjerde.
The $1 million, 9,000-square-foot shelter is being paid for with a federal grant from HUD (The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development).
Contractors broke ground for the facility last June and are now finishing up painting the interior.
"Our next step is to get the light fixtures and floor in," said White Earth Construction Manager Richard Fox Sr.
"We are right on schedule, so we hope to be done by the end of May," Fox said.
The facility houses a living room area, visiting room, dining room, kitchen, laundry room, seven offices for DOVE employees and eight rooms for domestic violence victims, including one that's handicap accessible.
Fox says they are trying to make the rooms just like what you would see in a hotel room.
"Each room will have its own bathroom, little refrigerator, and the doors to the rooms will each have their own lock system where you swipe a card to get in, just like a hotel room."
Security is the main concern at the shelter, with swipe-locks on every door, inside and out.
Gjerde says they also hope to install a fence around the building this summer if funds allow it.
"When these violent men lose control, they get crazy, so we really have to take every safety persuasion," Gjerde said.
The building is located in an ideal place, according to DOVE employees, because both the clinic and the police station are right down the road.
DOVE Advocate Coordinator Jodie Sunderland knows first-hand how important this shelter will be for the community.
She says she started experiencing abuse when she was only a teenager.
"The first family crisis center I went to, all they did was help me with the protection order. They didn't give me any education or resources."
As Sunderland walked the halls of the nearly finished shelter, she teared up - not with pain, but with excitement for the help they will now be able to provide women and children who need it most.
"Having them (the victims) live here, we'll know that they are safe and secure, and if we are having direct contact with them throughout the day we can help them more with services, resources and referrals," said Sunderland.
Right now, DOVE employees are restricted to home and office visits, but when it comes to domestic violence, that often can't cut it.
"Sometimes they fall through the cracks if they come in to get help, and then walk away, and we won't see them again until there is another incident," Gjerde said.
Last year, DOVE helped approximately 150 women in the community, including many children.
Currently the organization has to send victims to off-reservation safe homes or crisis centers.
They expect once the shelter is up and running, more women will come forward for help.
"A lot of the times when we do offer to bring them to a shelter, they don't want to go because it's away from their support base that they have here," said DOVE Visitation Coordinator Tanya Vold, who has herself experienced domestic violence.
"It's away from their jobs, and they have to pull their kids out of school to move them. I think it'll be so much easier for them to seek help here."
The DOVE women all agree that the eight rooms will not be enough, but they say it's all they can do with the money they have to work with.
"It's a start; we have to start somewhere," says Gjerde.
Because the shelter will probably stick to a 30-day stay limit, Fox says their next hope is to find a way to build transitional housing.
"That's what we'd like to see happen, but we have to see if we can find the money for it."
But that is a down-the-road goal.
For now, the challenge is to find funds to furnish the shelter, as they are barely coming in under their $1 million budget for the building's construction.
In addition to money concerns, DOVE employees are also busy trying to work out the details of a first-of-its-kind facility on White Earth.
"We've been talking a lot with people from the Crisis Center in Red Lake and Detroit Lakes because we also have to figure out policies, procures and all that," said Gjerdie.
Chipping away at details will likely keep everybody involved with the shelter busy until its opening, set for the beginning of June.
To find out more on the shelter or the DOVE program, call 218-935-5554 or 1-800-763-8629.