May 18—Domestic violence never stops, nor do the services that the Mitchell Area Safehouse provides to victims.
But over the past year, it's been more challenging than ever for the Safehouse to provide those vital services at the nonprofit organization's existing facility due to a lack of space paired with an increased demand.
Leaders of the Safehouse are trying to change that with their plan to build a new multimillion-dollar facility that would add much more rooms and handicap accessibility features.
"We have three bathrooms for 26 people to share, and we don't have room for social distancing," said Nancy Wietgrefe, executive director of the Mitchell Area Safehouse. "It's just not built for the type of work that we do in this day and age."
On Monday, the Safehouse gained a critical partner in their big dreams of building a new 17,000-square-foot facility. The Mitchell City Council approved the city to apply for a $2 million grant that would help cover nearly half of the costs of the Safehouse's proposed $4 million new facility.
The Safehouse's quest for a new building comes at a crucial time, as the organization has seen a surge in domestic violence amid the pandemic, which has resulted in a constant flow of residents staying at the facility known as Tanta's House.
In 2020, Safehouse Developmental Director Ashley Hobbs said the Safehouse had more than 160 people stay at Tanta's House for a period of time, marking an increase of about 10 from previous years.
While space was already tight prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem and revealed other issues with the Safehouse's facility such as a lack of Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility.
"We're not ADA-compliant, and we're not able to get any medical stretchers in the house with how narrow the halls are," Hobbs said. "We've had emergency situations that require stretchers as well, so it's been one of a number of challenges we have at our current facility."
In the new facility, the goal is to add a total of eight rooms, which could house around 30 residents. As of now, Tanta's House can adequately fit 27 in the two-story building. If the new building materializes, it would increase the Safehouse's occupancy to roughly 60.
The Safehouse provides emergency and transitional housing for adults and their children who are escaping domestic violence or sexual assault. The organization serves eight counties surrounding the Mitchell area.
Outgrowing the facility
Tanta's House dates back to 1998 at its 1809 N. Wisconsin St. location. Hobbs says the building is in good condition, but it was not meant to accommodate the growing number of occupants that the Safehouse has experienced over the past two decades.
"Originally, this was built to fit around two families in need of emergency shelter. We now have as many as five families that may need to seek our shelter at the same time, so it shows the need for the expansion," Hobbs said. "Domestic violence never stops. We have outgrown our current facility, and it's not slowing down."
Sharing one kitchen in a house that sometimes has up to 30 residents, including the children of the adults who are staying with them, isn't easy, Hobbs said. During the peak of the pandemic, Hobbs said there were times some residents had to stay on the couch until another room opened up.
Tanta's House offers people temporary shelter for victims until they safely transition into another residence. But stays have become longer during the pandemic, adding more challenges to the setup.
As the Safehouse Board of Directors mull over the best location to build the new facility, Hobbs said it won't be near the existing building. With apartment complexes on the east and west sides of the building and the Highway 37 bypass to the north, Hobbs said the Safehouse is "landlocked." That's why they haven't sought to add on to Tanta's House.
Right time to move
The plan for the new facility has been in development stages since 2019. With the available grant funding opportunities, the Safehouse board felt it was the right time to begin the funding process.
The Safehouse is seeking to apply for the $2 million through the Community Development Block Grant fund. The grant is a part of the federal government's coronavirus funding.
District III, an association of county, municipal and tribal governments that provides development assistance to its members and the private sector, approached the city recently about getting involved with the Safehouse's plan to build a new facility. District III, which serves Davison County and the surrounding area, would administer the grant.
Eric Ambroson, a representative of District III, spoke to the council on Monday and explained the timeliness of going after grant funds for the project.
"The state Governor's Office of Economic Development had $6 million allocated for projects that respond to the pandemic. As of tonight, there are only two projects that I know of that have been awarded, and those two haven't occupied $1 million of that $6 million," Ambroson said. "The timing is about perfect to go in and strike while that money is available."
The city's main responsibility for the Safehouse expansion project would be serving as the sponsor and "pass-through" entity, which would entail holding public hearings for Safehouse's applications to advance the project and monitoring the progress of the project if it gets in motion.
"The money would flow through the city to Safehouse's project," Ambroson said. "This project fits very well into the purpose of these COVID-19 funds."