Family Shelter Service was founded in 1976 by a group of caring and concerned individuals who wanted to help the growing numbers of homeless people in DuPage County. These volunteers were members of an activist group, the Religious Education Community (REC), which studied social challenges in DuPage County. The group’s initial impressions led them to believe that “people living in their cars” had lost their homes through fire, eviction or similar crises. They were not expecting to deal with women and children who were homeless as a result of domestic violence. It quickly became apparent to some members of the REC that shelter for victims of domestic violence was a critical and overlooked issue. The first program that Family Shelter Service provided was a hotline operating 8 hours daily. Very shortly after that, a local church donated space and a telephone, and the hotline soon operated 24 hours a day.
The founders faced a community reluctant to fund an organization without evidence or statistics to confirm that victims of domestic violence existed in DuPage County. In 1977, the DuPage County Health Department conducted a survey to determine the greatest need in the county, and the results confirmed that the largest unmet need in DuPage County was emergency housing for women and children needing protection from family violence. In 1978, our founders established a network of safe homes — private volunteer homes in the area — and in 1980, with the support of a HUD grant, the original shelter, Hanson House, opened with a 12-bed capacity.
In 1982, with the passage of the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, the Court Advocacy Program was implemented. The Children’s Program was added in 1984. In 1986, a second 18-bed shelter opened. A third shelter that houses our special transitional program opened in 1989, bringing the total shelter capacity to 43 beds. Also in 1989, Family Shelter Service played a significant role in the development and implementation of the DuPage County Domestic Violence Protocol, which provides the structure for the community’s law enforcement response to domestic violence.