Office Vibes: YWCA Emergency Shelter

Written by: Fargo Inc

Photos by Paul Flessland

A behind-the-scenes look at the YWCA Cass Clay provided an eye-opening look at the depth of services available to women and children in the FM community.

When you work with as vulnerable a population as the YWCA does, security is of the utmost importance. When a consultation a couple years ago with experts from both the Department of Homeland Security and North Dakota Safety Council revealed some weak points in the building’s lobby, they made a number of improvements, including installing bullet-resistant materials and additional safety features.

YMCA Shelter
Erin Prochnow, CEO, YWCA Cass Clay

“At no time does our staff necessarily have to be in contact,” Prochnow says. “And that’s not becuase we don’t want to be in contact with folks. We just want to protect our people because it was identified to us that this was one of our vulnerable areas. And so we’ve tightened up that vulnerable area.”

YMCA Shelter
Julie Haugen, Associate Executive Director, YWCA Cass Clay

“We’re best known as a shelter,” Haugen says, adding that they actually hand out 115 food boxes each week to those in need. “When people think of the YWCA, they think shelter. But there are a number of other things people maybe don’t realize we offer. We’re so much more than a shelter, providing a whole continuum of services.”

YMCA Shelter

“That’s for folks not needing shelter but who might find themselves in a situation where they’re one paycheck away from a catastrophic event,” Prochnow explains. “If we can help prevent that, we will.”

YMCA Shelter
Prochnow says that, according to food-bank studies, the main reason people don’t seek food is that they’re ashamed and embarrassed. What the YWCA has done, then, is made the pick-up process as simple and inconspicuous as possible by keeping the food at the front of the building.

They rely heavily on community volunteers to help package food boxes and may other things.

Additionally, YWCA staff actually processes donations during the night in order to pull the more urgently needed items out and get them into donation boxes.

YMCA Shelter
Angela Daly, Shelter Services Director

Once someone is into the shelter and safe and secure, they get assigned a shelter advocate, which is essentially a case manager, and they work on goals and plans with them.

Everyone who calls the shelter gets through to an intake line, Shelter Director Angela Daly says. From there, a YWCA staff member performs an assessment, determines the severity of the situation and if there’s space in the shelter at that time, and figures out what services are needed.

“We never just say, ‘Nope, sorry, we’re full,’” Daly says. “Because we want to get the whole story and all the information. We sometimes even get men who call us, and even though we don’t house them, we want to get them the proper information and the best resources in the community we can.”

Daly stresses that while they are there to figure out their housing situation, it isn’t the ultimate goal.

“They’re here to set other goals,” she says. “Maybe their social supports aren’t up to par, maybe they’re on a fixed income and collect Social Security or disability. They meet with our education-and-employment coordinator to work on those needs. We do a series of assessments to gauge where people are at when they get here and where they’re at on that journey along the way.”

YMCA Shelter

“Ultimately, we should be trying to divert people,” Daly says. “If they have a safe, alternative place to go, they should be staying there versus coming to the shelter. But everybody is so different. It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.”

YMCA Shelter

“We have residents who are filling out housing applications, working on getting better-paying jobs, working on paying off some debt. Sometimes, we have people here who have been in such a controlling situation that they haven’t been able to make a decision for themselves (for a long time). We even have a licensed salon. Think about when you get a haircut. How do you feel? We have so many women who haven’t been allowed to cut their hair or style it in a way they want.”

YMCA Shelter
Gate City Bank has been one of the YWCA’s biggest supporters for a number of years—financial and otherwise—a couple years ago even donating a computer lab that all residents have access to.

It will probably come as little surprise, but study after study shows that homeless kids are more likely to be behind and struggle in school.

YMCA Shelter

The YWCA’s Study Buddies is an after-school program that allows kids in that situation to catch up and get to where they need to be developmentally as much as possible in their time at the Shelter.

“The kids we serve have often witnessed things most of us can’t imagine,” says Haugen, who adds that the kids have access to board games, TV, books, outside time, and arts and crafts. “In terms of seeing their mom abused or being abused themselves. The trauma they’ve experienced is significant so we try to help address that as much as we can. And then we also try to help them have what many of us would consider a typical childhood of fun—going to the pool, going to a RedHawks game, things like that.”

YMCA Shelter
Amanda Peou, Homeless Student Resource Coordinator

“When the building was being built,” Prochnow says, “one of the things we were looking for was a space for women to be able to prepare food on their own. As with many of our homes, it’s one of the most-used parts of the shelter.”

YMCA Shelter

Each person in the shelter gets assigned a cabinet in which to store their food and are also provided access to a large pantry, if needed.

YMCA Shelter

One of the many essential services the shelter offers is an on-site, licensed childcare center for moms to utilize free of charge. Different from the YWCA’s North Fargo childcare facility, the shelter’s version is more of a drop-in daycare center.

“This is a great resource to be able to provide women,” Haugen says. “As you can imagine, when they’re getting back on their feet, they need to know there’s a safe place for their kids to be when they’re out doing whatever it is they want to do in the world. And childcare and transportation are the two biggest barriers women face when becoming independent.”

YMCA Shelter

Both on site and throughout the community, the YWCA currently has 32 apartments that they either own or lease to residents and, through a partnership with West Fargo’s Lutheran Church of the Cross, are currently exploring possibility of adding another 30 units.

YMCA Shelter
Karen Carlson, Housing Director

Housing Director Karen Carlson, who also happens to be the the YWCA’s longest-serving employee at 22 years, gave us a short tour of one of the homes. YWCA’s Supportive Housing Program has been nationally recognized by the Office of the President of the United States as operating one of the best programs in the country.

YMCA Shelter

YMCA Shelter

YMCA Shelter

On site, there are three buildings dedicated to housing, all of which were provided and renovated by the Sisters of Presentation convent, which sits adjacent to the Emergency Shelter:

  • A six-plex: This building is for transitional housing. Women can stay in these units for up to two years.
  • Two additional transitional housing units
  • Four permanent supportive housing units: These are reserved for women and children to stay in for as long as they need and with whatever amount of support they feel they need.

“When someone comes in,” Carlson says, “we want to make sure that we’re helping them to focus and ensure their basic needs are provided. Oftentimes, we’re working on employment, skills training and educational opportunities they might want to consider. A lot of them might come in with debt they’ve incurred so we’re working on helping them to develop budgets and pay down those debts.”

All families coming into the program are provided welcome baskets donated by the community. Not everyone would be excited to receive a screwdriver, but if you haven’t ever had one, it makes a difference.


Share This Article
Brady Drake is the editor of Fargo INC!