BIILINGS, MT, December 16, 2020 – Women and children who desperately need shelter and protection from their abusers; YWCA Billings programs to end family homelessness caused by domestic violence and poverty; and one of the worlds’ most generous philanthropists formed a perfect trine this week to address two pervasive problems in our community⎯poverty and domestic violence. These are the top two causes of homelessness in our region, and more than 98 percent of the people YWCA serves are experiencing both dilemmas.
YWCA Billings’ existing Gateway Emergency Shelter has provided safe, secure refuge for victims of domestic and sexual violence and human trafficking since 1998. The women and children who stay there receive multiple services, including shelter, toiletries, food, legal services, and counseling⎯all at no charge. In the past year, YWCA provided more than 8,500 shelter nights. Then COVID increased the demand.
Requiring people to isolate themselves with an abuser coupled with financial stress creates a ticking time bomb for relationships. Home isolation meant there was no protection from abuse. Once stay at home restrictions lifted, requests for sheltering and services went up. YWCA has struggled to keep sheltered people healthy in its outdated communal living facility that does not provide health-protecting separation.
“In early summer we decided to shift our immediate development focus from building more affordable housing apartments, to constructing a new emergency shelter that will protect women and families in individual units that would each have a kitchenette, private bathroom, and sleeping areas,” says Merry Lee Olson, CEO.
YWCA has space on its campus to for the 24-unit building. What it hasn’t had is the funding to help make construction a reality. Then, a surprise gift landed at YWCA this week in the form of a $1 million unrestricted donation from philanthropist, MacKenzie Scott. “This amazing gift provides solid footing for our going out to the community and other foundations for help in raising the remaining $2 million needed to construct this vitally important addition to our campus to help address family homeless. Ms. Scott’s donation is truly a gift to our entire community,” says Olson.
In Scott’s post about the gift, she states “This pandemic has been a wrecking ball in the lives of Americans already struggling. Economic losses and health outcomes alike have been worse for women, for people of color, and for people living in poverty”. Ms. Scott, has pledged billions to help form solutions for issues including domestic violence and poverty. The result over the last four months has been $4,158,500,000 in gifts to 384 organizations across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C.
Ms. Scott’s post explains that to select the 384 recipients, her team sought suggestions and perspective from hundreds of field experts, funders, and non-profit leaders and volunteers with decades of experience, and then leveraged this collective knowledge base in a collaboration that included hundreds of emails and phone interviews, and thousands of pages of data analysis on community needs, program outcomes, and each non-profit’s capacity to absorb and make effective use of funding. Ms. Scott’s advisors looked at 6,490 organizations and undertook deeper research into 822. The 384 carefully selected finalists help by delivering vital services, and as Scott says, “…also through the profound encouragement felt each time a person is seen, valued, and trusted by another human being.”
Through MacKenzie Scott’s generosity, YWCA has the first $1 million needed for its $3 million project, which will be a two-story, 24-hour secured facility. The building will house 24 studio apartments, laundry facilities, counseling and case management offices, along with our 24/7 help lines where 4,775 callers were assisted in the last year.
YWCA Billings’ existing Gateway Shelter is the only 24-hour/365 day per year secured facility in an 18,500 square mile area, and last year the people who came there for protection were from 22 of Montana’s 56 counties, three American Indian Reservations, and seven other states. If these victims must resort to homelessness to escape abuse, they join the growing number living on the streets as a result of domestic violence.
“Over the life of the new shelter, thousands of women and children will be assisted with live-saving sheltering and life-changing wrap-around services. With our help, families can heal from the complex trauma of violence and poverty,” says Olson.
Olson says that YWCA also helps to build a better, safer community. “Domestic violence is not just a relationship problem. It is a community issue that results in millions of dollars of impact annually,” she adds. “By sheltering victims of domestic violence in a safe haven and enveloping them with support services to assist in their healing from the trauma of abuse, we improve the health and wellness of individuals and their families. We foster the skills they need to live safely and sustainably and ensure economic vitality by offering employment counseling and job training to strengthen the community workforce. We provide legal assistance to victims who cannot afford counsel. We assist them in finding housing by working with landlords who do not want to take a risk on someone who has an unstable past life. Victims we assist evolve from being a community problem, to being contributing members of our society with a solid, safe future.”
NOTE: YWCA Billings is bound by confidentiality agreements to not share Ms. Scott’s contact information or communications from anyone YWCA interacted with throughout the grant process. Ms.Scott’s representatives also made it clear that she does not accept solicitations for grants or donations.