Olympia’s SafePlace making more space for a safe place

A longtime service provider for domestic violence and sexual assault victims has found a new headquarters.

In April, SafePlace expects to finalize the purchase of a building at 521 Legion Way SE in Olympia. The organization has outgrown its 2,300-square-foot main facility down the road at Legion and Adams Street.

After renovations, the new building will measure about 12,000 square feet. The first phase of renovations on the “west wing” should be finished by the end of 2014, with the second phase completed by the end of 2015, executive director Mary Pontarolo said.

Founded in 1976, SafePlace serves thousands of women in the Thurston County area every year. The lack of space has been an issue as SafePlace has expanded its reach, Pontarolo said.

The demand for SafePlace’s services has increased steadily. In 2012, SafePlace fielded about 4,500 crisis calls. In 2013, that number increased to 5,273. Of those calls, 852 came from people who experienced sexual assault. In 2013, the organization sheltered 249 people, including 107 children.

SafePlace responds to an average of eight rape reports a month. Most sexual violence occurs in intimate relationships, Pontarolo said, and has long-lasting effects.

“It’s a very foundational problem for a number of health related and social problems,” said Pontarolo, adding that a high percentage of homeless people are survivors who cope through drug addiction or other behaviors.

But awareness can help prevent domestic and sexual violence. “It actually works to talk about it. Perpetrators are skilled at utilizing silence to find more victims,” Pontarolo said.

In addition to a 28-bed shelter at an undisclosed location, SafePlace operates a 24-hour hot line and victim response programs. The organization also serves Spanish-speaking clients.

Because of space constraints, SafePlace services are dispersed throughout the community, and it has no room for child care. The new facility will house several services under one roof, including support groups and legal advocacy programs.

“We’ve been out of room for years,” said Pontarolo, adding that the total cost of the new building and renovations is estimated at $3.5 million.

One plan for the center is a community kitchen for groups such as MIJAS, which stands for “mujeres improving job abilities and skills.” This group was created by Latinas to help other women in crisis. Along with a catering and restaurant business that benefits domestic violence victims, the group teaches food preparation and other job skills.

With a staff of 34, SafePlace relies on state funding for about half of its $1.3 million annual operating budget.

Private donations and grants make up the difference. The organization plans to hold fundraisers this fall.

Learn more

Victims of sexual or domestic violence can contact SafePlace for help at 360-754-6300 or at safeplaceolympia.org.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 ahobbs@theolympian.com


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