In less than one year, a homeless day shelter for women in Louisville is making an impact and gaining respect in the community for addressing a long-standing gap in services. With the cleaning out of homeless encampments making news, what to do about homelessness in Louisville is a much-debated hot topic among city officials and homeless advocates. One of the specific obstacles raised and well-documented is the lack of a full-time day shelter for women. That changed when Uniting Partners (UP) for Women and Children was launched in July 2018.
UP Co-founder Andrea Scott, MSSW from University of Louisville’s Kent School of Social Work, said her interest was piqued when she learned more about the unique needs of homeless women when she ran a women’s group during her internship at Family Health Centers. “The inspiration for UP was that there was a pressing need in the community,” said Scott. “Women just didn’t have the same access to resources as the men – there was no ‘St. John’s Center’ for women. My colleague Amy and I talked to the executive director at St. John Center for Homeless Men and several other agencies and began to realize how deep the need was and we wanted to help the women.”
Her co-founder and friend, Amy Meredith, who had a business development and marketing background, also happened to be searching for a more fulfilling career path. True to its name, UP brought numerous partners to bear to create its mission and vision, including Legal Aid to get its nonprofit status, operating space in the basement of the Diocesan House of Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral located on South Second Street, and initial grant funding from Women 4 Women. The Coalition for the Homeless has supported them with a grant applied on their behalf, professional development and opportunities and help with database management to track clients.
The model is to help family homelessness
Scott said the model is simple – to partner with anyone and everyone who can help to address the issue of family homelessness – congregations, individuals, nonprofits, and businesses of all sizes. The organization provides a healthy and safe environment for homeless women and children that offers opportunities and encouragement for achieving self-sufficiency.
“By providing shelter and resource options through a partnership of providers, UP for Women and Children is where homeless women are empowered to find hope, help, and refuge,” said Scott. “Family Health Centers sends us a nurse practitioner on Wednesdays and a mental health counselor twice a week, legal aid comes to offer services, and KIPDA comes to help with medical insurance. We try to remove as many barriers as we can for women to access services.
In the sanctuary of the UP space, women can find a warm and supportive daytime space to rest, showers and laundry, access to a phone and mailing address, case management services and connections to housing, employment, and financial benefits. “Sometimes it’s just a friendly face and hug,” said Scott. “It can also be about empowerment – by being with them and helping them make a call to the Center for Women and Families because they’re trying to escape an abusive relationship, “she said.
“Our staff understands trauma informed care and being cognizant of that means treating everyone with dignity and respect, meeting them where they are, and working on their goals and their agenda instead of our agenda,” said Scott. “Just being able to meet some of their most basic needs, offering laundry and showers, can instill a greater sense of well-being. Having a place to blow dry their hair or put on makeup can be about restoring dignity at the most basic level”, something Scott finds gratifying.
“This is very humbling work,” she said. “We hand out underwear on a daily basis. It’s just one of those things people take for granted and don’t even think about.”
Growing with volunteers
Scott said ten months in, UP is still building a volunteer foundation, but has a core of 10-15 regulars, one of whom is Carrie Fuller. A labor and delivery nurse, Fuller said she first learned of UP and its mission through social media at the Coalition for the Homeless. She began volunteering just one month after UP opened its doors, and said she plans to continue as long as they keep those doors open. “I knew it was right up my alley,” said Fuller. “Being a nurse for 26 years, the idea of nurturing women and children spoke to me,” she said. “I truly fell in love with it the first time I was down there.”
Fuller’s duties include helping clients run the washing machines, getting them clean clothing, playing with their children, providing snacks or coffee – and just listening. “I talk to them while they’re waiting to speak to their case manager. I ask them about their day and what’s going on in their lives.”
What the women appreciate is just having someone to tell their story to, said Fuller. “That’s what is really lacking in their life; is somebody that cares about them, so being present is a big part of it, even if it’s just talking about their nail color,” she said. “We all want to feel loved and liked and respected, and these ladies deserve that very much so.”
The volunteer is most passionate about helping women make their house a home. “UP has helped 60-plus women to get into housing. These are ladies physically off the streets, not living in cars, not living in shelters. They have an actual place safe to go at night. That’s the part that brings me the most joy.”
But the nurse decided not to stop there. She and her husband have started an informal assistance program by rallying friends to donate furniture or furnishings whenever a client secures new housing. “We try to provide all the basic needs to set up a house – couch, bed, pots and pans, etc.”
Fuller believes everyone should strive to make their own difference. “If you don’t like what’s going on in the streets with homelessness, then get involved with one of the nonprofits out there that are trying to help, whether it’s your time, your talent, your money, whatever it is,” she said. “Instead of complaining about it, try to do something to help. I think we can all play a part in that.”