Proposed $2.5 million for Safe Passage would bring new shelter


Sean Reed

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood talks to a crowd in downtown DeKalb about why voting matters in contemporary elections in November, 2022. Underwood recently proposed $2.5 million in funding for Safe Passage to build a new shelter. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

By Joseph Howerton, Video Editor

Clarification: This headline was updated to better reflect that the money for the Safe Passage shelter is still a proposal and not guaranteed.

DeKALB – As Sexual Assault Awareness Month comes to a close, Rep. Lauren Underwood made a proposal to address the domestic violence and sexual assault health crisis in DeKalb County.

On April 17, Underwood announced proposals for the Community Project Funding program, including $2.5 million to Safe Passage. Safe Passage would use this money to create a new shelter, increasing the available space for people seeking refuge from domestic violence and expanding on Safe Passage’s offered services.

The new shelter will be titled New Beginnings and be located at 217 Franklin Street, according to Safe Passage’s website.

The Community Project Funding program is a way for members of Congress to request direct funding toward local government and non-profit projects. Currently, the list of Underwood’s 15 proposed projects seeking funding, like Safe Passage, are pending approval by Congress. Mary Ellen Schaid, executive director of Safe Passage, said she’s confident in Safe Passage getting approval.

“I have always made it a priority to bring federal resources home to the 14th District,” Underwood said in a statement provided to the Northern Star. “This funding will help expand Safe Passage’s facility in DeKalb, where current space constraints are forcing them (Safe Passage) to turn away hundreds of adults and children in need.”  

Safe Passage is an emergency shelter that treats individuals and families suffering from domestic violence and sexual assault. Its services include a 24/7 crisis and text line, transitional housing, counseling services, legal advocacy, medical advocacy and domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs – all of which are completely free.

Safe Passage has an agreement with NIU that Safe Passage will respond if anyone at the university calls them. Safe Passage will have a case worker meet with or make an appointment with anyone who calls suffering from domestic violence or sexual assault.

The NIU Health Center additionally has a trauma informed room where students meet with an advisor from Safe Passage and share their trauma to develop a treatment plan for healing. All students needing assistance from domestic violence and sexual assault can seek support and counseling from confidential advisors from Safe Passage in this trauma informed room.

“They can call us at any time. We are here for them, and we will provide any service that they would like to have, counseling, if they need shelter,” Schaid said. “We will do everything we can to best support them.”

Safe Passage’s current shelter houses between 25 and 28 people, this includes five bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms. Between 2021 and 2022, Safe Passage served 502 women, men and children in the DeKalb County area. Due to insufficient space, Safe Passage could not shelter 460 people, having to find alternative shelters outside DeKalb County until space became available.

New Beginnings will increase shelter capacity for those needing sanctuary without redirecting them outside of their home county. The new shelter will be two stories with bedrooms for individuals and families, multiple bathrooms, a large kitchen, a large laundry room and more space for Safe Passage’s legal advocacy and domestic violence programs.

“Having more room for legal and medical advocacy, counseling and other services means that this organization will be able to expand their services to people facing serious threats to their health and well-being, and I’m working hard to bring these federal dollars home,” Underwood said in a statement provided to the Northern Star.

Property has been purchased by Safe Passage for New Beginnings, but $5.5 million is needed to be raised to build the shelter according to Christine Kalina, Safe Passage development director. 

To accomplish this goal, Safe Passage has partnered with capital campaigns, consulting groups and other committees in the community to get funding from big funders, individuals, foundations and corporations. Safe Passage did not want to disclose whom these funders were due to the fundraising not being completed. These backers have already aided Safe Passage in raising $2.2 million in donations for the project, according to Safe Passage.

Kalina said if all goes well Safe Passage hopes to break ground sometime in spring 2024.

Schaid said having Safe Passage’s new shelter nominated for the Community Project Funding program has significant meaning. Not only do they have Underwood’s support but they were also chosen during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“When we were doing this grant (Community Project Funding program), we needed to get a lot of letters of support from community people,” Kalina said. “These people explained in there that without Safe Passage being a part of this community, how are we going to continue to save lives in this community?”

If you are looking to donate to the shelter New Beginnings, visit the Safe Passage website under capital campaign. For questions on Safe Passage or New Beginnings, contact Christine Kalina via email at [email protected] or phone at 815-762-4273. If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence or sexual assault, visit the Safe Passage website, call its line 815-756-5228 or its text line 815-393-1995.