With a lack of alternate housing, women experiencing domestic violence are often forced to stay in or return to abusive relationships.
As of Monday June 8, victims of abuse experiencing homelessness in Greater Cincinnati no longer have to live in fear that they’ll have to eat alongside men in an emergency shelter.
The Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women, located on Reading Road in Mt. Auburn, held a grand opening and tours of the facility Friday June 5 at 10 a.m.
The 20,000-square-foot center, which includes full laundry services, a contemporary kitchen facility and 60 sleeping quarters, will serve more than 500 women each year. This is an increase from the 42 beds for women that were available at the Drop Inn Center, which will be replaced by the Hatton Center and a men’s shelter scheduled to open in September.
“Back in the 70’s… nobody could have imagined this day where we would have this facility that is specifically for women experiencing homelessness,” said Arlene Nolan, executive director of the Drop Inn Center, at the event. “The dreams of so many have finally come to reality.”
About 200 people gathered to watch the ribbon-cutting.
“I think it’s one of the primary functions of civilized society to care for people at risk,” said Mayor John Cranley at the event. “Putting together a facility and services for women and children under stress is our highest calling, and here we are.”
One woman who has been a Drop Inn Center resident since September of 2014, Jesica Kiefler, spoke out about her struggle with substance abuse, mental health and housing. She said that when she came to the Drop Inn Center, she was looking for a safe home base to get back on track.
“The Drop Inn Center made me feel like a person, made me feel like I belonged again,” Kiefler said at the event. “I feel like the women’s shelter here is definitely needed for women because we suffer from a lot of other illnesses that men do not suffer from, and I think it’s very important that we look at women differently from men.”
The opening of the shelter marks the first women-only shelter in Greater Cincinnati, said Fanni Johnson, director of emergency shelters. She added that the YWCA provides shelter to battered women, but that this is the first shelter open to all women, including those who are transgender.
“We don’t want to force a female to be with the men just because of a body part,” Johnson said. “Whatever they identify, that’s who they are to us. We want people to feel comfortable.”
For those not comfortable sleeping with men or women, the Drop Inn Center accommodated, but Nolan said it was difficult because of the lack of space. Johnson added that they often provided some bedding in the main waiting area, both for those who preferred it and in cases of overflow. The Hatton Center, however, provides private spaces that anyone can reside in if available.
“One of the things we’re really proud about is that we always do overflow, and we certainly make sure we do that here (at the Hatton Center) if more than 60 women show up,” said Nolan. “Just being able to accommodate, that’s just another way of making sure nobody’s left behind.”
The men’s shelter will open in Queensgate, about three and a half miles away from the Hatton Center. Nolan doesn’t expect the longer-distance separation of men and women to be an issue, because the Drop Inn Center had a policy not allowing couples into the center at the same time, finding couples coming in together “always ended up with issues.”
Although the sleeping quarters were separated for men and women at the Drop Inn Center, many other services were not. This was uncomfortable for many women, especially those who had experienced abuse. Nationally, 92 percent of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual assault at some point in their lives, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
“The space (is a big benefit). Our women are really crammed on top of each other and sleep in really close sleeping quarters,” Nolan said. “There’s a lot of shared services with the men, and the women don’t particularly like that they have to eat their meals with the men. And so many just don’t want to be on the same campus as a man, and now they aren’t.”
The Hatton Center is named after family physician Doctor E. Kenneth and his wife Esther Marie Hatton, said Walter Lunsford, Executive Director of the Hatton Foundation. Lunsford described E. Kenneth’s legacy in the field of medicine, including work with the disabled, the homeless, children and veterans. He added that, from the foundation’s perspective, the opening of the Hatton shelter is the 34th time since 1999 that they’ve “answered the call for help for the homeless.”
“When Gale approached me over a year ago about the prospect of having a new women’s-only shelter named after Esther Marie Hatton, the board and I agreed that this was a tremendous opportunity to honor the woman behind the man,” Lunsford said at the event. “Homelessness is a deep scar in our nation and particularly in Greater Cincinnati… our hope is that the rise of homeless women who enter the new center will truly be transformed.”