After 33 years, Women’s Advocates Inc. is still a good neighbor


When Raeone Loscalzo became executive director of Women’s Advocates Inc., she followed in the footsteps of a handful of visionary women determined to put an end to domestic abuse. As the first battered women’s shelter in the nation, Women’s Advocates has always strived to empower women. “Our mission is eliminating violence in the lives of women and children,” says Loscalzo.

For additional information regarding any programs, or if you are interested in becoming a volunteer, contact Women’s Advocates at 651-227-9966. For those in need of emergency services, Woman’s Advocates operates a 24-hour crisis line: 651-227-8284 or (outside the metro area) 1-866-233-1111.

It is a daunting task. When Women’s Advocates started in 1974, they were in unchartered territory. A woman trapped in an abusive relationship had little legal recourse. The police and courts generally preferred not to get involved, because domestic violence was generally viewed as a family matter. Safe houses were nonexistent. It wasn’t until Women’s Advocates opened its doors in St. Paul did the Twin Cities public begin to take the issue seriously. They’ve provided shelter to abuse victims, lobbied successfully for domestic abuse laws and worked tirelessly to educate the community.

Today, more than 1,000 women and children go to Women’s Advocates each year seeking a safe haven. Their house is nestled on Grand Avenue among the Victorian homes, apartments, and quaint shops. Several years ago, Women’s Advocates took a bold step and decided to be more visible in the community. “We don’t operate in secrecy,” declares Loscalzo.

Program director Mary Brown agreed. “A lot of shelters still operate closed, with post office boxes as addresses. The biggest reason we went this way was because so many battered women were having a hard time finding shelters. We felt it was worth the risk because we wanted to get visibility.” According to Brown, over 33 years they have never had any major problems.

The shelter houses up to 50 women with children. They stay at the shelter anywhere from a few days to three months, depending on their needs. Most find a stable living environment within a few weeks. Loscalzo stressed that abuse can take many forms in addition to physical violence. “We see lots of cases of emotional abuse. Also, isolation tactics are very common. The abusers keep [women] separate from other people in the community to control them.”

By the time an abused woman has reached the point that she turns to a shelter, she has generally exhausted all other resources. Often walking in the doors with just the clothes on her back, a battered woman is typically desperate. At Women’s Advocates, the women receive an array of services ranging from counseling to clothing. Advocates work with each woman individually to secure employment, housing, health care, financial assistance, and anything else needed to help the women transition into a stable, violence-free life.

Brown sees the role of the advocates as crucial in helping the women gain independence. “Our staff members are called advocates, and that is really what they are doing: advocating [for battered women to have] resources.”

Statistics reveal that children witnessing abuse are unusually likely to become either victims or batterers when they grow up. Recognizing this, child advocates try to address the special needs of the children with individual counseling and other programs. For example, upon entry each child over the age of four receives a basic safety plan that tells them when to call 911 and who to turn to outside of the home for help.

Brown is also proud of the shelter’s commitment to education. One of their top priorities is to have the child return to school as soon as possible. “Our goal is to make sure each and every child is enrolled in school within three days so they can continue to have that stability in their life.”

As the needs of their clientele change, Women’s Advocates adapts to keep pace. They have recently added two new programs to help the women mainstream back into the community. First, they have on-site mental health services for both the women and children. This program began three years ago under separate funding. However, recognizing its benefits, the board recently decided to maintain the program even if that special funding is not forthcoming.

Recently, Women’s Advocates implemented a unique aftercare program designed to address women’s needs once they have left the shelter. The ROSE (Real Opportunities in Safe Environments) Program provides a continuum of support for up to six months. It links families to various resources in their community. Loscalzo sees this as key for women to successfully live an abuse-free life. “It’s really to help [women] maintain their self-sufficiency, because the number one reason women go back to their abuser is lack of resources.”

In the future, Loscalzo hopes to add a chemical health component, expand the children’s program, and strengthen community outreach. While Women’s Advocates continues to grow, many other shelters are struggling to survive. “They ask me how we’ve done it,” Loscalzo says. “I think being in St. Paul, we’re really fortunate. We’re in a community that is very supportive.”

Neighbor Maureen Dolan is not only volunteers at the shelter but is also a board member. “I’ve always liked the shelter as a neighbor,” says Dolan. “I want the greater neighborhood to not be fearful of it but to embrace it. They affect the neighborhood and we affect them.”

Deb Pleasants worked as a probation officer for 15 years prior to becoming a stay-at-home-mom. In addition to caring for her son, she is a freelance writer and citizen journalist. She resides in St. Paul with her family.