Charlottes $8.6 million domestic violence shelter opened Thursday with nearly three times the number of beds as the old 29-bed shelter, yet experts agree its likely still too small.
Planners say they anticipated as much, so the five-acre site has room to grow from the current 80 beds to 120, says Phil Kline, president of Safe Alliance, which created the project.
Safe Alliance, formerly United Family Services, predicts all 80 beds will filled by January with women and children escaping abusive husbands and fathers.
Kline says having the shelter at capacity is a sign of success for the agency, which promotes awareness of domestic violence and its destructive impact on families.
Fifty of the 80 beds are expected to be taken by children.
As awareness goes up about the options women have, we expect demand for our services to go up, he said.
We had a study that looked at communities of a comparable size to Charlotte and found that we should have between 100 and 120 beds. But with the economy the way it was, we decided to break things into phases. Rather than waiting, we built what we could.
That study, commissioned by Mecklenburg County, showed the community was behind in its shelter support for domestic violence victims.
The county had 3.5 domestic violence beds per 100,000 people, compared with 17 per 100,000 in Minneapolis, 14 per 100,000 in Indianapolis, and 11 to 12 per 100,000 in Louisville.
With 120 beds, the countys ratio would be boosted to 11.5 beds per 100,000 people, the study concluded.
One of the biggest benefits of pushing forward, officials said, is that Safe Alliance will no longer have to use local hotels to hold shelter overflow, Kline said.
With only 29 beds in the old shelter, 200 of the 565 clients served last year had to be placed in hotels, which typically offered reduced rates, officials said.
Now, all the shelters clients will be brought under one roof and allowed to stay longer than the existing 30-day model.
The fenced-in, gated site also has state-of-the-art security for thwarting intruders, including a so-called man trap that boxes in unwelcome men who get past the gate.
If a perpetrator looks at this building too long, well know, said Kelly Coyne, director of residential services for Safe Alliance.
We have well over 50 cameras that pan and detect motion on our property. They find that motion and follow it.
On average, 55 women and children a night are seeking sanctuary in Mecklenburg County to escape abuse by intimate partners, the agency said.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department responded to 35,000 domestic violence calls in 2012, yet it is estimated that 73 percent of domestic violence assaults go unreported.
Safe Alliance says its aware that the dingy site of its former shelter, an old county building, may have discouraged some women from seeking help. It was so cramped that two families might be bunked in the same room, while single women might sleep four to a room. And eight women were sharing one bathroom, Coyne said.
It had no full kitchen, so meals had to be brought in from a nearby food service, officials said.
One domestic violence survivor who attended the grand opening Thursday admitted that she went back to her abuser after seeing the old shelter.
By contrast, the new 40,000-square-foot shelter has been likened to a mountain retreat, including a full kitchen, dining hall and interior courtyard where women can go without fear of being spotted by their abusers.
Kline said a second phase to add more beds may be launched in a couple of years, after the community has had a chance to see the benefits of the larger shelter.
He said he has already begun making contacts with key financial supporters. The new shelter was paid for with donations ranging from $1.5 million from the citys housing trust fund to $100 collected at a wedding in lieu of gifts.
A campaign to raise $2 million additional dollars for an operating reserve is ongoing, officials said.