Overcrowded for years, Anchorage’s domestic violence shelter is about to expand

The Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims in Anchorage. (Photo by Kirsten Swann/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s largest emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence is growing.

The Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, otherwise known as AWAIC, expects to break ground on a long-planned $4.6 million expansion project this fall. Executive Director Suzi Pearson said the expansion will help meet an overwhelming need in the community. 

“Starting about a decade ago, we began to see a significant increase in the number of people that we were serving, and we were going to over-capacity levels that were just unprecedented,” she said. 

The expansion project will increase shelter capacity from 52 beds to 67 beds, Pearson said. Several of those beds will accommodate male victims of domestic violence. The shelter will also add space for guests to meet with caseworkers and victim’s advocates, helping to fill the growing demand for nonresidential services, Pearson said. 

According to the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center, “rates of violence against women in the Municipality of Anchorage remain unacceptably high.” As of 2015, nearly half of all adult women in the city had experienced some form of intimate partner or sexual violence.

For the last five years, the Anchorage domestic violence shelter has operated at or over capacity nearly 50 percent of the time, on average, Pearson said. 

“So that tells you that the demand is there, and people in the community really need emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence,” she said. 

The expansion is funded through sources ranging from the Rasmuson Foundation to the State of Alaska. The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust recently donated $250,000. Construction is expected to last a year.