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Software connects domestic violence victims with open shelter beds

Cornerstone, a Bloomington-based nonprofit with a mission to prevent domestic violence, is trying to go national with a service that allows domestic violence providers to share real-time information about who has open emergency beds.

Cornerstone, a Bloomington-based nonprofit with a mission to prevent domestic violence, is trying to go national with a service that allows domestic violence providers to share real-time information about who has open emergency beds.

The program is called Day One, and it has been running in Minnesota for about a dozen years. In the rough and tumble world of nonprofit funding, it has had its ups and downs. This latest growth spurt could fulfill a dream of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, who wanted to replicate the program for domestic violence shelters across the country.

Day One connects 49 domestic violence shelters and safe houses across Minnesota. Seattle-area advocates learned of it and asked if they could try it in the King-Pierce-Snohomish county metro area. Cornerstone agreed to a test to see if the program could be expanded. It launched in October and the initial reaction is positive. (Short item here)

Expanding nationwide could have a double benefit. First, it could help domestic violence victims leave dangerous situations and more easily connect with services in other states where they might have family or other support systems. And for Cornerstone, the program could eventually generate profit to support its prevention programs.

It is the latest story of a nonprofit trying to bolster the bottom line through entrepreneurship. Susan Neis, Cornerstone’s executive director, said the program isn’t making money yet, but that is the dream.

“We spend every waking moment trying to raise enough money to do the work we do,” Neis said. “If there is an income-generating subsidiary you can create, it opens up lots of opportunities for you to continue to do innovative work.”

More than software
While the program provides critical information on bed availability, its backers say relationship building is critical to its success. The program includes quarterly meetings for staff from different agencies to get to know each other, address challenges and share information.

“Day One is much more than a sophisticated web site,” Neis said. “It works to build a dialogue, a trust, between the programs that participate.”

Here’s how it works. Say a woman calls a domestic violence shelter and the shelter is full. The advocate keeps the victim on the phone and checks the confidential web site for openings that best accommodate the victim’s needs. The victim then is connected to the shelter with space—all with a single call.

Day One also helps with transportation, if needed.

A brief history
Colleen Schmitt, Day One’s manager, has been with the program from the beginning. The germ grew from Gov. Arne Carlson’s 1994 Task Force discussing Violence as a Public Health Problem. The United Way, Allina Foundation and battered women’s shelters partnered to start Day One. (At that time, women were saying they had to make between eight and 15 calls to find shelter, and some just gave up, according to shelter focus groups.)

Day One then rode the nonprofit rollercoaster that eventually landed it in Cornerstone’s corner.

Day One began with 10 metro-area shelters exchanging faxes in 1997. It expanded statewide in 1998, and moved to Blaine’s Alexandra House. The first secure web site started in 1999. Wellstone introduced a bill in the Senate in 2000 to ensure that domestic violence victims got the help they needed with one phone call, citing the Day One model. (It didn’t pass Congress.)

Day One became a freestanding nonprofit in 2001. The Allina Foundation was the main funder, and the foundation folded that same year (as Medica and Allina split). Said Neis: “This is the downside to being really dependent on one funder.”

It became apparent that Day One couldn’t survive on its own and Cornerstone took it under its wing in early 2005. And now it’s split off again. Sort of.

Going national added new wrinkles. Seattle asked to be indemnified against any potential intellectual property lawsuits against Day One. Cornerstone couldn’t risk a lawsuit either, so last fall it created National Day One LLC as a wholly owned, for-profit subsidiary.

Seattle pilot
Seattle area officials and domestic violence advocates pursued the Day One model after reviewing other programs around the country, said Amy Heyden, a planner for the city of Seattle. Day One stood out; it was user friendly and didn’t require agencies to make big operational changes.

Cornerstone is doing the pilot at cost, about $24,000 for the software and other supports. It also charges an annual subscription cost, $1,000 per agency, Heyden said. That covers “digital certificates” for five computers to use the secure system. (Larger agencies pay an additional fee if they need more computers.)

It’s only been going for six months, but anecdotally people like the program. Heyden said they could more accurately refer clients. If the Day One database shows all 13 participating programs are full, advocates know to do some kind of alternative safety planning.

“It is changing the way advocates work with victims,” she said.

Members already are talking about the need to expand Day One to more programs in Washington. Heyden said they also are interested in seeing Day One become a broader national network. For starters, the Seattle-area group is interested in working with Cornerstone to try a Minnesota-Washington test to see how it works between two states.

For more information on Day One, contact Schmitt at 952-646-6545 or email.

Pohlad Foundation pledges $20 million

The Pohlad Family Foundation has pledged $20 million “to help small businesses retain jobs, … improve neighborhoods hardest hit by the housing crisis, and ensure critical nonprofit services for families,” according to news release out on Wednesday.

Nonprofit partners will administer most programs. The Foundation is working with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Foundation/Grow Minnesota!, several housing agencies, and MAP for Nonprofits to ensure:

• Small business job retention, working capital, and/or expansion plans.

• Increased housing stability in Minneapolis zip code 55411 and St. Paul zip code 55106, neighborhoods devastated by foreclosures.

• Job retention and temporary jobs for nonprofit agencies to provide direct services for families in need.