On most nights, 52-year-old Tonya sleeps outdoors near the Louisville Free Public Library – and until recently, she also spent most days outdoors. But a couple weeks ago that changed. Now, she spends part of the day at Uniting Partners (UP) for Women and Children, a new day center for women and children who are homeless.
“I love this place — I wish we could stay all day, I wish they were here every day, and I’m hoping that they’ll end up a lot bigger,” said Tonya, who only wanted to be identified by her first name for safety reasons. “[Louisville has] a lot of places for men, but not for women.”
The day center is Louisville’s first women’s-only daytime shelter. Co-founder Andrea Scott said it’s important for homeless women to have a safe place to go.
“Especially if the women are sleeping out[side], they’ll turn to the men for safety, but I’m sure that comes at a price and a high cost, which is another reason we wanted to be here — at the very least to give them some time away from that environment and empower them,” Scott said.
Tonya, for instance, said she’s experienced aggression from men in shelters and on the street. She carries a knife to protect herself, and said she’s never had to use it. Having the UP day shelter to go to provides a couple hours every few days for safety.
“You don’t have to put up with the men, because around here some of them are nasty, very nasty to women,” Tonya said. “I just think [the day center is] great, it’s a safe place.”
Scott said there are about 7,000 people who are homeless in Louisville, and about a third of those are women. The day shelter provides showers, laundry facilities, feminine hygiene products and referrals for women with housing, employment, mental health and substance abuse needs. The shelter is open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for four hours during the day, but Scott said they plan to eventually expand to five days a week for longer hours.
“We know that there’s a need, and that women have needs seven days a week,” Scott said. “And with it just being the two of us and starting out we wanted to grow slowly.”
Scott said one of the issues her team has bumped up against is fewer resources for women without children.
“Women with children, there are good programs in place to try and help, but if you’re older or maybe you don’t have custody of your children currently, it’s sometimes harder to find housing programs or even recovery programs, it’s just limiting,” Scott said.
The UP day center is located at 425 S. 2nd Street and is currently looking for volunteers.