As her marriage unraveled, Taalibah Qatadah As-Siddiq fell into homelessness and lost her job.
Her security shattered, the mother of eight searched for some safe place for her and her children. She found it at Sisters Need A Place, a small shelter focused on Muslim women. With the stability of a home, she began to rebuild her life.
"Situations can change," said As-Siddiq, who works part-time now at the shelter and calls herself den mother to the residents. People often become homeless because of events beyond their control, she added. "I'd like to see people lose the judgment that they hold on people, that it's not always people who don't care or don't try."
Sisters Need A Place began informally 15 years ago as Muslim women gathered in homes around the Twin Cities to talk about life over tea and coffee. In 2004, organizers opened a permanent location for the service. Sakinah Ali Mujahid, the shelter's executive director, was honored recently by the Minnesota Humanities Commission along with 25 other Minnesotan veterans for their military and community achievements.
Mujahid's need to help women was shaped by her own experiences. "I was abandoned with my four children," she said.
"When I was getting divorced — still a very hard subject — I couldn't process through it," she said. "So I actually had to sit for awhile and figure out what my priority was and that was...take care of my children."
After getting back on her feet Mujahid says she vowed to help women who had similar experiences. She decided then: "I'm not gonna let this happen to anyone else."
The shelter helps about 60 women a year, nearly double the number in past years. Most are helped through home visits or telephone counseling. There are a few rooms of low cost rental housing on the second floor. A few of the women who come to the shelter have marriages that are intact, but they're separated because of jobs or immigration delays. Others have housing problems.
Mujahid says some clients land in housing court and leave with an "unlawful detainer" stamped on their rental record because they didn't pay rent or violated the terms of a lease.
"We discovered that once our single women leave our program it's kind of hard and challenging for them to be on their own still with a small income."
Referrals to Sisters Need A Place come by word of mouth and from Twin Cities area mosques.
Besides offering the shelter as a residence, staff refer women to other agencies or non-profits for advice on housing, immigration and health care. Mujahid visits women in their home or other locations to talk about family life within the cultural context of Islam although the SNAP website says the service is also open to non-Muslim women.
Mujahid says the military taught her how to be organized. She served 13 years in the Army and Army Reserves, rising to rank of sergeant. Her military duties included base inspections and human resources.
Mujahid says women can survive a crisis if they have help.
"A lot of us know what to do," she said. "But if we don't have that support to be our cheerleaders and let us know and not downgrade us, then we are not able to come out of anything."
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