CHICAGO LAWN — Five years ago, Vers Annette Blackman was forced to take her two children and leave Chicago to escape her abusive partner.
She said was filled with shame and a broken spirit as she packed her belongings in a garbage bag and left the city.
"Many domestic violence victims are judged because they stay in relationships that endanger them or their children, but one of the first questions a woman has to ask as she summons up the courage to leave her abuser is where she and her children will live," Blackman said. “I had to leave Chicago because every place I called here had waiting lists or no beds available."
Blackman told her story at a ceremony featuring Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin to announce the construction of a two-story WINGS Metro facility in Chicago Lawn. The 40-bed facility will be the first domestic violence shelter to open in the city in more than a decade, officials said.
Blackman said Chicago was in "dire need" of the facility that she said will be more than just a shelter. It is also a support system that "will lift [survivors] up and encourage and challenge them as they embark on the journey of healing and regaining confidence."
Biden told the crowd gathered in a Chicago Lawn parking lot in Monday's frigid weather to imagine what it takes a woman to escape an abuser with her children when she has nowhere to go.
"Imagine the courage it takes to sneak into a closet and pick up that phone and call the city police department ... call anyone. Imagine the courage it takes to walk out of a home with several small children on a day like today. Not having any idea where you go, bundled up in a park or under a bridge," Biden said.
"There's no prison on earth like the four walls of a woman's home when she's battered. No prison is equal to that. These are women who are prisoners in plain sight. They walk down the street everyday and they are still prisoners," Biden said. "Imagine what it takes to do what that woman has to do."
Biden was confident that the facility, to be built in collaboration with three non-profit groups — Women in Need Growing Strong (WINGS), Metropolitan Family Services and Greater Southwest Development Corporation — would provide the victims a staff that "understands, listens to her and care for her."
He said the shelter plans to help women get lawyers for restraining orders, provide basic skills to help them find jobs and provide counseling to help children get through the process, but also will provide an elusive commodity: "hope."
"Just simple hope. The prospect ... the slight glimmer of hope, maybe ... maybe I can restart my life," Biden said. "And it all starts with a safe place. Everything starts from here and that's why we're here today to build a safe place."
Biden credited Emanuel's work on the federal Violence Against Women Act to help lay the groundwork for a facility like this.
“I’m always in awe of the courage of these women to rebuild their lives, to give their children a sense of dignity," Emanuel said. “This new shelter will allow women to close one chapter of their life that needs to be closed and begin on another journey with their family and their children to put their lives together."
Emanuel said the facility was a message to the victims of domestic violence that "the city of Chicago stands with" them and that domestic violence "is not a private matter, it’s a public matter."
"It’s shocking to me that it has been a decade since the city of Chicago has opened up new beds and shelters for mothers and their children to take that step to rebuild their lives," Emanuel said.
The shelter is expected to be built by the end of summer 2014 and will feature retail and resale shops, offices and social services for clients. It hopes to serve more than 100 families in its first year.