CHICAGO LAWN — A variety of city leaders and non-profit workers joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel Thursday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Chicago's first new domestic violence shelter in a decade — a project paid for with money from a lawsuit filed against a strip club.
Operated by WINGS, a group that arranges safe houses for abused women and children across Cook County, the shelter includes 40 temporary beds and five apartments for families in need of long-term support. It's set to open its doors to women and their families on Sunday.
The shelter will expand the city's capacity to house battered families by about 35 percent, according to WINGS CEO Rebecca Daar, eating into a long wait list for a sorely needed resource.
"A lot of times women will just go to their mother's house or a friend's house, but in that case the abuser may be able to find her," Daar told DNAinfo at an October unveiling for she shelter's garden. "We provide a safe haven where violence can't find them, and where we can counsel them on what their next steps are."
The WINGS Metro center will be the first new domestic violence center to open in Chicago in 10 years, Daar said. WINGS — whose name is an acronym for "Women In Need Getting Stronger" — secured funding for the project after Emanuel diverted $1.8 million in city proceeds from a 2013 lawsuit against a strip club, a turn of events Emanuel called "poetic justice."
The city contributed $1.8 million of the $2.5 million it received from a settlement it won against the VIP's Gentleman's Club, 1531 N. Kingsbury St., in Lincoln Park after a protracted legal battle.
In a speech after the ribbon-cutting Thursday, Emanuel spoke about the importance of creating an assistance network for abused women.
"A lot of mothers and girlfriends find themselves trapped in situations where they have to think first and foremost about their children, and then about how to gain independence — financial independence, emotional independence, psychological independence," Emanuel said. "For those mothers and girlfriends, WINGS can be the first place for them to come and start to heal, where they won't just gain independence, but where they can start to put one foot in front of the other and get started on a new life."
The city still needs to do more to address domestic violence, Emanuel added, adding that it's the number-one reason for 911 calls across the city.
"The good news is that this shelter will be open on Valentine's Day," Emanuel said. "The bad news is that it will be full on Valentine's Day. So it's clear we all have a lot more work to do."
Since the beginning of his term, Daar told DNAinfo, Emanuel has been doing "incredible work" to "help break the cycle of domestic violence."
Since taking office in 2011 the mayor created a "domestic violence prevention task force" and introduced domestic violence training programs at two police districts, according to a press release from the mayor's office. At the October event, Emanuel said, he will "replicate that [training] model across the city."
Emanuel was introduced by VersAnnette Blackman-Bosia, who had stayed with her two children in another WINGS shelter after fleeing an abusive relationship. The opening of the new shelter, she said, represented a "new day in Chicago."
"Today we're not just looking at domestic violence and fawning over statistics. ... We're saying, 'Here's how we're going to help,'" Blackman-Bosia said. "This is giving the city a big avenue to fight a real monster."
The shelter's address is kept a secret for the protection of its residents, but anyone experiencing violence at home can find help — and, if needed, shelter — by calling the city's domestic violence hotline at 877-863-6338.
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