Sheltering and empowering victims of domestic abuse

Imagine your partner is violent and abusive. You finally get the nerve to grab your child and leave, even though it means living in your car. Your ex-partner finds you and smashes in your car window. What do you do? This exact situation happened to Lori, and she did the best thing she could have, she went to DAWN for help.

They provided her with diapers, a gift card, hygiene supplies and gave her information about places to shower, get meals and clothing. If there had been room, they would have offered her a place in their shelter. Within a month, they helped her get a section 8 voucher. After working with DAWN advocates and legal aid, Lori now has a job, an apartment and daycare for her baby.

The Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN) was started in 1980 in the Des Moines Methodist Church by two women who were affected by Domestic Abuse themselves. Over the years, DAWN has helped tens of thousands of women, children and men through a holistic support system that not only protects them in immediate crises but empowers everyone to prevent violence and create respectful and safe communities.

Last year they moved their Center for Peaceful Communities into an old bank building in downtown Kent. It is unique for a Domestic Abuse center to be out in the open like this. Peg Coleman, Executive Director likes to say they are moving domestic abuse out of the darkness. She feels the subject can’t be hidden anymore because domestic abuse leads to many other types of violence in our community.

Erin Powell & Peg Coleman

This center is a gathering place for Advocates, Clients, Support Groups, Prevention Training and more. It is much more accessible now compared to the warehouse district they were located in. The fact that it is so close to the justice center is another plus.

“Downtown Kent is rockin’, I love being here,” said Coleman of her hometown. She loves being able to access the shops and restaurants downtown. The move also saves them on rent.

Their mission is to shelter and empower survivors of domestic abuse in South King County and to help keep us all safe by educating out community to respond to and prevent violence.

DAWN helps in four main ways: Shelter, Advocacy, Support and Education.

  • Each year, they provide more than 10,800 nights of safe refuge for women and children fleeing domestic abuse through their shelter program for women and children, and hotel vouchers. They can also help with the cost of moving and rent and intercede with landlords so survivors with legal, financial, criminal history or credit problems can secure safe places to live.
  • Escaping from violence is complicated for survivors who have been broken physically, psychologically, and financially by their abusers. DAWN has relentless advocates to help them heal and find whatever they need to create safe and happy lives – safe shelter, a protection order, public benefits, child care, immigration assistance, legal help and more.

Their 24-hour Advocacy and Support Line at 425-656-7867 or toll-free at 877-465-7234 is most often the first step for those they serve, connecting them to trained, caring advocates who can direct them to what they need- a safe place to stay, an attorney or just someone to listen.

Navigating the courts and legal system can be overwhelming for women who have gathered up all their strength to leave their abusers. Dawn helps them understand their legal rights, links them to attorneys and to free or low-cost legal aid, and accompanies them to court.

  • Dawn’s support groups give survivors the opportunity to share their feelings with others with similar experiences. They provide specialized assistance for people who face other unique challenges in addition to their efforts to deal with violence, such as a women’s support group in Spanish. They also offer individualized mental health therapy and referrals to more intensive treatment.

In addition, Dawn is equally devoted to breaking this cycle of violence by offering programs and services to help children heal. They offer individual and group support to help them recover from the trauma so they can face life with a renewed sense of safety and hope. Without support, domestic abuse is a cycle that repeats for generations in the lives of the children who witness it and then grow up to perpetuate it on their own spouses, partners, children and others.

  • DAWN partners with South King County and South Seattle public schools to teach middle and high school students how to develop safe and healthy relationships. They train businesses, churches, health care providers, community groups, nonprofit organizations, schools, police and prosecutors- everyone who may come into contact with victims and who cares about creating a peaceful King County- to recognize warning signs of potential violent behavior, to safely speak up and intervene, and to guide victims to safety and services.

They also participate in the Green Dot Program, which is a bystander training class. It is a radical new way for communities to act together. Green Dot Dawn is a collective of individuals taking the initiative and responsibility to bring about accountability for peaceful communities. Green Dot Dawn is based on a national, evidence-based program that is proven to reduce incidents of violence in communities.

Employers, co-workers, book clubs, schools, families, neighborhoods and other professional advocates are all welcome to participate in this national program that makes a difference in communities across America. The goal is to spread this information throughout the region to help DAWN rise up for domestic peace. (

Coleman said her favorite part of her job is seeing kids who came into the shelter very scared then getting to see them laugh and play later.

“It’s a hard place to be, in a shelter. So joyful noise means we are doing something right.”

The biggest challenge of her job, like most non-profits, is finding funding. South King County has the most diverse population in the area, but has less resources than Seattle, with a higher population of people needing support. DAWN has to turn away about 2000 requests per year for the shelter because there just isn’t enough room.

Coleman feels DAWN’s biggest successes are that they are still here, helping people. Getting to see people move on with their lives and not need them anymore is an amazing feeling. Not to mention their advocates are working magic with housing, the support groups are helping hundreds of people and so many of their staff are trained in violence intervention.

In 2016 DAWN provided emergency shelter and advocacy support services to 4,437 women & children, provided 13,787 shelter nights for 112 people (54 families), responded to 4,873 calls to their 24 hour support line, 202 women attend weekly support groups offered by DAWN, and they have provided 1,330 hours of legal advocacy. DAWN staff members also speak eight different languages to help bridge some of the barriers their clients face.

There are many volunteer opportunities for all abilities at DAWN. From crisis line and office help, cooking and cleaning at the shelter, handyman help at the office, to help at their biggest fundraising Gala this year on October 7th, there is always a need for people’s talents.

The biggest change in DAWN over the years is how they are now out in the open. Historically domestic abuse centers have stayed hidden but they have decided to work for peace out in the open with their new Center for Peaceful Communities.

When asked about the future of DAWN, Coleman had a surprising response.

“One day we can turn our shelter into a B&B, because the shelter will no longer be needed,” she said. “We will become a community that doesn’t tolerate violence.”

DAWN is more than just a name. It is inherent in their philosophy of bringing the subject of domestic violence out of the darkness and into the light by raising awareness and facilitating action in our community.

“Everyone deserves to be safe, happy and respected,” said Coleman.


Michelle Gehlman-Teeter

Michelle Gehlman-Teeter is a writer and photographer from Kent, Washington. Michelle is a contributor to She loves to find interesting places to go and fun things to do and share them with her readers. Click links to see her writing, photography or Facebook page.

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