Union Mission shelter for homeless single women to fill need from Florida to South Carolina

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Homelessness can happen quickly and without warning. For a single woman without much savings and living paycheck to paycheck, all it takes is the loss of that job or escape from physical or sexual abuse from a live-in partner.

“They could be sleeping on the street, on a couch, in their car, or — if they’re lucky — maybe a motel room, but it might not be the best motel,” said Michael Traynor, president and CEO of Union Mission in Savannah. “That’s the need right now. Statistics say 70% of homeless women are affected by domestic violence and 40% are victims of sexual abuse.”

Union Mission is remodeling the former J.C. Lewis Health Center building at 125 Fahm St. across from the Greyhound bus station. When finished, Haven for Her will house up to 32 women a night and each woman can stay for up to 90 days. After that initial 90 days, clients can move out on their own or continue to be housed in other Union Mission facilities such as the Ben & Bettye Barnes Center or the Dutchtown Campus Apartments, depending on their situation, Traynor added.

Single, unaccompanied women without children, without family support and possible mental issues are among the most vulnerable of the homeless population. According to the latest point-in-time count in 2019 from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, an average of 180 single, unaccompanied women experience homelessness every night -- about 28% of the total homeless population in Chatham County.

These point-in-time counts are taken every other year, but a count was not taken in 2021 due to COVID-19, according to the Department of Community Affairs website.

In addition to a safe place to stay, Haven for Her will offer services to help the women get into stable housing, such as mental health support and job training support.

“[We] have all these wraparound services that will support the women that come here, which I think will make a huge difference in their recovery to getting back to stable housing,” Traynor said. “That's what we're about at the end of the day.”

Wraparound services may include substance abuse programs in concert with other community services.

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A facility dedicated to helping unaccompanied single women is rare, according to Traynor. “We will be the only dedicated emergency housing solely for unaccompanied homeless women along the I-95 corridor from Florida to South Carolina,” Traynor said.

The current design of the building lends itself to give women a more home-like atmosphere, as well: no large, windowless rooms with wall-to-wall cots.

As a former health-care facility, the shell of the building contains multiple rooms and restroom facilities. The current remodeling keeps that layout so there will be one full bathroom between two large bedrooms. Each room will house two women — four women will share one bathroom. Some rooms also have extra-large doors, which will be kept to give the facility rooms that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Union Mission will increase its mental health services with six new private rooms in Haven for Her. The current facility across the street has three offices for mental health. Union Mission employs three mental health counselors and is looking to hire more in addition to a licensed psychiatrist.

“Last year we had just over 3,100 counseling sessions,” added Suzanne Willis, Union Mission director of marketing and development.

The new facility will have a laundry room, a common dining area and a kitchen for the women to cook simple individual meals or snacks if desired; but a majority of the meals will be prepared in the mission’s main kitchen across the street.

Residents will have access to computers to read emails and search for jobs. The entire building will have Wi-Fi, Traynor added. A case manager and a resident assistant will be onsite at all times.

Union Mission is currently in a $1.5 million capital campaign to fund the project.

"We are pleased with the support we've gained so far. We feel comfortable with the continued support [from the] community," Traynor said. "[We] will be successful in raising the $1.5 [million] to make this happen."

Haven for Her is scheduled to open in January 2022.

Barbara Augsdorfer is the education and nonprofits reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Reach her at BAugsdorfer@gannett.com or on Twitter @Babs7983.

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This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Union Mission shelter for homeless single women to fill need from Florida to South Carolina