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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

'A Safe Place to Heal' — Gentle Ironhawk Shelter Set To Reopen in Southern Utah

A photo of masked individuals cutting a ribbon at the Gentle Ironhawk Shelter.
Photo Courtesy of Pete Sands
Navajo Nation members at Gentle Ironhawk Shelter in Blanding, UT on July 14, 2021.

A partnership between the Navajo Nation and Utah Navajo Health System, or UNHS, is making it possible for the Gentle Ironhawk Shelter to reopen this year in Blanding.

The shelter will serve people who are fleeing domestic violence situations and need a safe place to stay or heal.

When the Navajo Nation bought the shelter in 2018, it wasn’t operational. Since then, the Navajo Division of Social Services, or NDSS, has been working with the non profit, community health organization to make it functional for residents.

Last month, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signed a four-year agreement with UNHS allowing them to assume operation of the shelter.

According to NDSS Executive Director Deannah Neswood-Gishey, negotiations and discussions were halted by the pandemic.

“We lost at least 11 months of trying to get the shelter open,” Neswood-Gishey said, “and so when [the shelter-in-place order] was lifted back in February, that was when we started negotiations and discussions with UNHS that there was the need to have the facility open.”

During the last year, some service providers in Utah saw an increase in domestic violence.

Rick Hendy, director of the UNHS Behavioral Health Department, said right now victim advocates drive families hours away for refuge. They take women and children to shelters as far away as Richfield or Moab.

“Some of the women just felt so disconnected from family being so far away,” he said. “So we're really excited to have this in the area where they won't feel so detached from home — from family.

Jessica Holiday, a UNHS victim advocate, said the shelter will have 18 beds and can accommodate up to 30 women and children.

The shelter will offer 24/7 services like housing, counseling, behavioral health therapy and referrals to medical services at the local UNHS clinic. Holiday said they are looking into having a female physician work at the shelter, so they don’t have to transport people elsewhere.

“Helping them get to safety, that’s the number one goal,” she said. “It's really taking into consideration what they want and what they feel comfortable with and working with them to create that plan, to get to the situation where they're free of domestic violence.”

Delilah Goodluck, communications manager for NDSS, called this a historic partnership.

“Coming from [the] division of Social Services these partnerships speed up services, [they] ensure that we're not doing it by ourselves and it also builds trust with the community,” Goodluck said.

According to Hendy, the shelter is finishing licensing requirements with the state, and still undergoing renovations like the installation of a new security system. They anticipate the shelter to be fully operational by October.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can call the Utah Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-897-LINK (5465), or the Utah Sexual Violence Crisis Line, 1-888-421-1100. In an emergency, call 911.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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