Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Faith-based women’s shelter offers dwelling and healing

Victims of domestic violence need a safe and secure place

One woman, a single mother, was raped in her own home; another, a mother
of three, was taunted and sometimes beaten by her husband. Kathy, the
abused wife, called herself “broken”; Michelle, the rape victim, felt
“destroyed.”

Both escaped their homes to find respite at The Dwelling Place, a faith-based
women’s shelter located in St. Paul. The safe house actually consists of two
buildings — one a crisis shelter, the other a transitional home. The crisis
facility is a two-story house where cheery sunlight streams through kitchen
windows. The beams, at times, highlight a particular verse painted on one of
the walls: “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure times, in
places of rest,” from Isaiah 32:18.

These are descriptive words for Kathy and Michelle who testify to finding
much needed peace in this residence.

This is the effect intended by The Dwelling Place founder, Diane Stores. Diane
Anderson, the shelter’s executive director, offered history about how Stores
started The Dwelling Place: “The founder was an abuse victim herself. She
wanted a spiritual component in the shelter, so Stores prayed, and eventually
her prayers materialized.”

The Dwelling Place opened its doors in 1998. It remains the only faith-based
shelter within Minnesota or in surrounding states, says Anderson. Religious
affiliation means no government funds, but volunteers from local businesses
and churches have helped to renovate the shelter and continue to support it.

More than 1,000 families have benefited from this sanctuary over the years.
Women and children from Minnesota and surrounding states have found
safety there. Even families with roots in other countries, including Kenya,
Liberia, Laos, and Sri Lanka, have made their way to The Dwelling Place. “God
intervenes in people’s lives and brings them here to find rest,” relates
Anderson. “Kathy is a good example; she had little hope and nowhere to
turn.”

Kathy, a woman in her sixties with a slight build and a soft voice, sits at the
dining room table inside The Dwelling Place and reflects on her 30-year
union, one riddled with violence. It began early in the marriage. “I had all of
my three children with me at that time; the youngest wasn’t even a year old.”

The hurt came both in verbal and physical forms. Kathy knew the pain of a
broken arm, yet worried more that “it hurt the children to see their mother
treated this way. They were too frightened to intervene, but when it got bad
enough, they would run to the neighbors.” Fortunately, the children were not
around to hear a particularly caustic remark by Kathy’s husband: “He said he
could hardly wait to slam my coffin shut.” Then, for the first time during the
Metro Lutheran interview, Kathy’s eyes welled with tears. Still, she quickly
diverted from those sad memories. “But then I just walked in the door here
[several years later] and I was surrounded by love. When I came — there was
nothing they needed to know about me, but that I desired shelter and peace.”

Michelle expressed similar reactions. Having been raped in her apartment,
this young woman searched desperately for somewhere to feel safe. The man
had covered her head with a cloth while raping her, so Michelle could not
identify her abuser. She was left with some bruises but describes the
lingering pain as “intensely emotional.”

“I have post-traumatic stress disorder,” Michelle admits. The young woman
fidgets as she tells her story, her gaze often shifting to where her little boy
plays nearby with toys. “I am thankful that we’ve got a safe place to stay,”
says Michelle, gesturing toward her son, “and they’ve provided Jordan with
toys and books.” Michelle is grateful for a Christian-based shelter. “It was a
deciding factor for me staying here. My faith is very important to me. It’s
been one of the few positives in my life lately,” she says. Still, this single
mother works at piecing her life back together.

“The rape destroyed me. I had a great job that I ended up quitting because
the public contact made me fearful.” (Michelle never knows where she could
encounter her attacker.) However, she is currently looking for a job. She
explains: “Even though I am nervous, I put myself out there. The Christian
atmosphere that I am in now encourages me. I had so much anxiety to deal
with, and it wasn’t good for my child. He actually used to sense my fear, and
tried to comfort me. My little boy would hug me and say, ‘It’s okay Mommy’;
a little three-year-old shouldn’t have to do that.”

Those days seem to be past after experiencing safety and shelter within The
Dwelling Place. “I’m feeling better,” says Michelle. “I’m feeling like a good
parent again.”

Michelle is not the only one to move forward. Kathy, too, has made strides,
even to the point of moving from the shelter into her own apartment. The
former abuse victim credits The Dwelling Place for her success. “It comes
from experiencing love, encouragement, and teaching. I was taught how to
heal and how to recognize unsafe conditions, and these teachings were
scripturally based.” Both Kathy and her husband are seeing separate
counselors, and are even hoping to reunite. “Part of what I learned at this
shelter is the willingness to forgive. Because if you can’t forgive, you remain
shackled to your burden, at least that is how it is for me.”

Michelle and Kathy have accepted help and strive to reclaim what was taken
from them. Unfortunately, not every abused woman has this opportunity. (See
“When there is nowhere else to go,” see below.)

Anderson explains that the demand for safe houses is great. Hundreds of
potential clients are turned away from The Dwelling Place each year due to
lack of space. The director also noted that not every resident has a success
story. “Some decide they don’t want what we have to offer. They may not be
ready to face the pain, but for those who come and try, it can be beautiful
how God transforms lives.”

Karen Trudeau is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. She attends St.
Stephanus Lutheran Church (LCMS), St. Paul. Kathy, Michelle, and Jordan are
aliases. The women didn’t want to be identified for safety reasons.

When there is nowhere else to go

Minnesota already has a shortage of available shelter space and services for
domestic abuse victims. What will happen as Minnesota’s governor and state
legislators plan to reduce budget costs?

Brian McClung, communications director for Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), stresses
“It’s important for state government to prioritize and live within its means,
just as families and businesses have to do.” McClung did not specify whether
plans are pending to cut spending for battered women’s services during this
legislative session.

However, Sen. John Marty (DFL, Roseville) recommends not backing away
from aiding such families, reminding constituents that Pawlenty and the
legislature have reduced funding in past years. While acknowledging the
state’s “massive” deficit, “To deny help to those who are domestically abused
is economically foolish and morally wrong,” says Marty. “If you care about
people, you have to care about this. Just look at kids who have to see abuse;
then it gets passed on through generations unless steps are taken to prevent
it. If cuts are made, it costs us more in the long run. Consider prison costs for
the abuser, medical expenses for the abused, and home placement for the
kids.”

Pawlenty often uses a typical Minnesota family as a metaphor for state
budget-solving. For example, in his State of the State address in January, he
asked legislators to keep in mind the scene at a typical Minnesota kitchen
table. He said, “On the table are bills, notices, and a notepad with a budget
that’s tighter than it’s ever been. Hope and fear are also at the table. How do
we pay these bills? How do we fix the car? How do we pay the mortgage? How
are we going to afford college or even retire someday?”

Marty contends that, when considering the Minnesota family, compassion is
at the center of the discussion. “Families don’t say to their abused, ‘You are
too expensive, we can’t take care of you.’ That’s not how our families
operate; it doesn’t represent our moral values.”

But the Governor warns that raising taxes only increases pressure on families
and businesses during this recession. Instead, he opts to scrutinize state
needs, asking “What’s most important? What can we afford? What do we give
up?”

Don’t give up on domestic abuse victims, warns Marty when hearing these
questions. He outlines reasons: “Domestic abuse is too often fatal. It breaks
the spirit and destroys a person. Shelters and counseling are badly needed.
Even without impending cuts, there are too many women who don’t have
access to shelters and counseling. And, there isn’t adequate counseling
available for the abusers. If the abuser gets help, it lessens the chance of him
hurting someone again.”

Speaking on behalf of Pawlenty, McClung stresses how important it is for
state government to “prioritize and live within its means.” Thus, whether
some abused family will obtain shelter or counseling is, for now,
undetermined.

Marty gave an example of what denying help could mean. “I met a woman a
couple of years ago at a temporary shelter. She had a two-year-old and a
newborn. This woman had very visible bruises, yet she told me her husband
had told her, ‘You’ll be back. You don’t have anywhere else to go.’”
—Karen Trudeau