The phones are already ringing off the hook. There is no shortage of takers for the new domestic violence shelter called WINGS Metro, opening Sunday on the South Side of Chicago. One woman, beaten by her husband, is waiting in a hospital room until she can move in.
The new shelter, the location of which is not being disclosed, is an expansion of the shelter program WINGS Inc. It has been operating in the Northwest suburbs for more than 30 years and now has set its sights on going national.
"This is a step in the right direction, but it's just a drop in the bucket in terms of the services people need," Rita Canning of Inverness, chairwoman of the Women In Need Growing Stronger board, said Thursday at the ribbon-cutting for WINGS Metro.
"No question, by Sunday afternoon we will already be halfway or all the way full."
The South Side opening marks the first domestic violence shelter to open in Chicago in a decade. It will increase the number of shelter beds in Chicago by more than a third, adding 40 to the 115 that already exist.
It also means WINGS -- which has a 45-bed shelter in the Northwest suburbs and transitional housing around the suburbs for women and children -- is now the largest provider of shelter housing and services in Illinois.
"We want to do what we do for people in the Northwest suburbs in other communities and cities, to spread our wings, so to say," said Rebecca Darr, WINGS CEO.
Darr said the issues abused women face on the South Side are the same as those faced by suburban women. But because of a lack of available beds in Chicago, women from the city have been coming to the suburban shelter for years.
Darr said while WINGS had been looking to open in Chicago for many years, it was finally made possible by a $1.8 million grant from the city and the donation of a former police station and land, which WINGS has transformed.
In building WINGS Metro, the agency paired with Metropolitan Family Services, a 100-year-old social service provider that specializes in early childhood work, domestic violence counseling and legal services. It also partnered with Southwest Development Corp., which was the general contractor on the project.
WINGS Metro has cost about $10 million to build, and the WINGS board is raising the final few million to pay off the mortgage.
Two philanthropic Northwest suburban couples -- Pat and Vince Foglia and Rita and John Canning -- have pledged $1 million apiece if WINGS can raise $2 million more on its own.
As Darr and WINGS celebrate the opening of the Chicago shelter, which had its official ribbon-cutting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday afternoon, they are already looking ahead to the next big project, which might be in California.
Denise Brown, the sister of Nicole Brown Simpson, is an outspoken advocate for eliminating domestic violence who spoke at a WINGS gala years ago. She and Darr met again during an appearance on "The Dr. Phil Show" and since then have been discussing opening a shelter in Los Angeles called "Nicole's House."
"It's a long-way-off kind of pipe dream I have, but it's one of those things that keeps bubbling up," Darr said Thursday.
After that, the sky may be the limit. Canning said she hopes WINGS can become a national player in domestic violence awareness and housing.
"It has always been our goal to grow," she said. "We have a phenomenal prototype for what a domestic violence shelter and transitional housing should be that could be incorporated anywhere in the country."
The need, both Darr and Canning said, is there.
"My number one goal is to be out of business," Darr said. "But as long as the phone keeps ringing we are going to keep trying to find ways to help, to provide resources for these women and children."
Even as WINGS continues to grow away from its suburban roots, Darr said the agency will always maintain and appreciate its home base.
"Anything we say we need, it gets donated," she said. "We are lucky to be part of such a generous community."