The following remarks were presented by Keely Watkins, YWCA Dayton rapid rehousing specialist, who works every day to connect domestic violence survivors with housing that feels like home. Keely gave the keynote address at Voices Against Violence, which is YWCA Dayton’s signature fundraiser for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Weren’t able to attend? You can still donate online any time to support our housing programs.
I joined the team at YWCA Dayton in 2021 as a rapid rehousing specialist, and at first I thought working in the housing department would be easy. What could be so hard about finding housing for women and their children? I thought to myself, I’ve got this in the bag. This will be a lot easier than the 20 years I had just spent working in corrections. Was I in for a rude awakening!
I had no idea that landlords would or could reject partnering with us. After all, we are a worthy cause, and everybody wants to help organizations with a worthy cause right? Wrong! Some landlords just said “no, we do not want a partnership.”
Needless to say, after my first two weeks of employment, I was ready to quit.
I felt defeated.
But I also understood that my main objective would have to be building partnerships with landlords who were willing to help us assist women who are fleeing domestic violence.
I remember meeting a client for the first time to enroll them in the rapid rehousing program and begin the housing search.
She expressed how powerless she felt because she had no control over her life.
She and her child were living in the shelter, and had been there for a little over two months. She had low self-esteem. She told me every time she was hit by her abuser, she felt as if he had beaten the hope out of her, he had kicked out all of her dreams.
And she felt ashamed because her children were watching and she felt as though they viewed her as weak. Not only because of the abuse, but because she was not even able to maintain housing for them and now they lived in a shelter.
Can I tell you something? There is something powerful about having your own place to live. Especially if you‘ve had to live in a shelter with your kids and especially if you’ve ever had to live in a place in fear.
So this is when I realized, the goal of housing is not just to place people anywhere, but to ensure they have safe, quality, affordable housing, for their families and to help restore the dignity, self-respect, and quality of life into women whose lives have been interrupted by violence.
And so as we begin to discuss the logistics of where she would like to live, and what this place would look like, I begin to see a spark in her eyes. She was getting excited just to feel some sense of hope for stability and security at the thought of being housed.
I am a survivor of life. And when life becomes too much, what brings me the greatest peace, is walking into the space I created in my home.
This is our desire for the women we serve: that they have a home full of peace and love, that they can call their own. That they have 6 months to one year in our program to get on their feet again, without worry of rent payments. That they are able to fulfill their goals, go to counseling, become gainfully employed, or whatever the need is.
Recently, a client moved into a beautiful ranch style apartment in Huber Heights. It is the first place she has ever had in her name. She had never signed a lease before and was overwhelmed — but so excited — at the lease signing. It is the first time she has lived alone in her adult life. She and her child are within walking distance of stores and the park. And she is happy for the first time in years!
She can turn her water faucets on and off in the sink whenever she wants to, she can decorate her apartment anyway she wants to and she is thrilled, because when she was with her abuser, she was not allowed to do those things without his permission. She tells me often, when she and her child say their prayers at night, they thank God for blessing them with their apartment, and they thank god for YWCA.
YWCA Dayton cannot do this alone
I recently housed another client who moved into a lovely three-bedroom home. She’s a mom with two teenage children. The landlord asked the client what her needs were for the home before she moved in.
She told him, she had no furniture. The landlord partnered with Welcome Home Dayton, an organization that assists with providing furniture for persons starting a new life. And surprised her by having the entire home furnished. They provided living room, dining room, and bedroom furniture for all three bedrooms. What a blessing!
She cried for two days. But this time, they were tears of joy and not defeat, not despair, and not sorrow.
I could give you many examples of how housing has lifted the hearts and minds of many women in the program and has helped them to be successful in starting a new life.
All the things that I have taken for granted in my life, these women have taught me to be grateful and humble.
Now when I turn my water faucets on and off, I find gratitude. When I buy new furniture, or hang a picture, or redecorate a room, I am grateful. Each day that I come to work, I realize that the goal of housing is not just to provide a roof, but it is to help restore the dignity, self-respect, and the quality of life for women whose lives have been interrupted by violence.
Thank you for being here today to learn more about the important work YWCA is doing right here in our community, and thank you for supporting it so it will always continue.
We are grateful for you.
Still time to help
Even if you weren’t in attendance at Voices Against Violence, it is not too late to get involved this Domestic Violence Awareness Month and support YWCA Dayton’s housing department. You can donate online any time and any amount helps.
- $1,000 ($83/month): Provides empowering clinical care to break the cycle of abuse.
- $600 ($50/month): Provides three weeks of child care for a mother in shelter
- $240 ($20/month): Provides two days of shelter
- $120 ($10/month): Provides one month of fresh, nutritious meals
- $60 ($5/month): Provides two hours of 24/7 crisis hotline operations