Shelter from the storm
November 29, 2010
She has known what it’s like to live in fear of her own husband.
When he drank, he became irrational, to the point of verbally and emotionally abusing her and their two children.
One night, her husband’s alcohol abuse escalated to the point of not allowing Betsy (not her real name) to leave her own home.
She was trapped by him and his rage, and her elementary-aged children were witnesses to it all.
The next day, Betsy chose to bring an end to the constant drinking, the constant fighting.
“It was starting to affect my kids in their school,” she said.
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“I’d been living in fear for a while and I didn’t know how to escape. I had a feeling that there was nowhere to go.”
But she knew she and her family “needed to be away and let him think about what’s wrong.”
She and her children fled to the aid of Advocates of Grand County, which put her and the children up in a local hotel. Betsy put a restraining order on her husband.
Without a safe house in the county, victims of domestic violence have found temporary refuge in several hotels throughout the area.
For Betsy, the hotel stay was less than ideal, she said.
Large school groups were staying in the hotel during her time there, and their loud adolescent revelry was a sharp contract to her own state of crisis.
Also, her car was parked in the hotel parking lot. “It could easily have been found,” she said.
“It wasn’t so much a dangerous situation for me, but it could be for others.”
With the help of the Sprout Foundation and supporters of Advocates, the organization now owns a residential home in Grand County that will serve as a safe house. The house, named the “Sprout House” because of the foundation’s generous support and because it gives victims fertile ground to “sprout” new lives, is expected to be ready for clients by April 1.
Obtaining access to a safe house in the county has been a longtime goal of the Advocates organization, which for 30 years has been serving as a safe-haven for victims while it strives to influence a violence-free community.
Boarding victims in that mission has been a major challenge, according to Advocates Executive Director Deb Bittner.
Hotel stays can be cost-prohibitive, and Advocates has had to set a maximum three-day limit on the time a victim can stay under its umbrella.
If hotel spaces are not available or if the need for heavier security arises, some victims are forced to find shelter in safe homes outside the county.
“When victims leave (abusive) domestic partners, it increases their risk,” Bittner said.
With the new shelter, a security system will be installed, including a special “panic button” that can access law enforcement directly.
And Advocates will be able to shelter victims for up to 90 days, allowing a better opportunity for victims to “take one day at a time” in their time of emotional – and at times physical – healing.
With the limited stay in hotels, victims “frequently felt as though they had no choice but to return to an abusive situation because there were no alternatives,” Bittner said.
“Our goal is to empower the clients we work with, so when they leave the shelter they have all the tools in their toolbox to live safe, productive lives regardless of the situation they are in.”
Through therapy, group support, medical attention, help with finding housing and with finding work, Advocates can “truly put our arms around them in a crisis situation,” Bittner said, “then take them by the hand and lead them toward success.”
Just in the last six weeks, Advocates has taken in five individuals and their children, but with the three-nights stays in hotels, “We’re scrambling; and they’re scrambling,” Bittner said. The new safe house, she said, will be able to house up to five adults and children, and more with special permitting if needed.
The Sprout Foundation contributed $110,000 toward the purchase of the home, the location of which is kept confidential for the safety of victims.
“It’s absolutely an incredible, incredible gift from the Sprout Foundation,” Bittner said. “Without them, this could not have happened.”
Advocates contributed $50,000 from the nonprofit’s own reserves, and the organization’s seven board members pledged $30,000 of their own money to a capital campaign that is seeking to raise the remaining $135,000 still needed to get the gutted house furnished and ready. The Advocates organization is turning to the community at-large for help.
Because the safe house is equally important for children of domestic violence, the safe house can be considered an investment in the future of the community.
“Children living with domestic violence are frequently the silent victims,” Bittner said. “Studies show children raised in a home with domestic violence have social, behavioral and physical disorders and are at a high risk for substance abuse and other dangerous behaviors.”
Boys raised in such environments, Bittner continued, are more likely to grow into abusers themselves, and girls are more likely to become victims of abuse. The safe house can break this cycle “and be a great starting point to the healing and wellness process,” she said.
Since Betsy’s domestic downward spiral this fall and the family’s subsequent steps toward healing, she and the children have returned home. Her husband has quit drinking, she said.
She continues counseling and group support through Advocates.
Although her husband seems committed to change, Betsy has learned through Advocates that there is a place she can go if the need arises again.
“I still have a safety plan,” she said. “If something changes, I have a place to go. I don’t have to stay, I don’t have to tolerate it.”
According to Bittner, it can take a victim five to nine times to leave an abusive partner for good.
Betsy remains hopeful that won’t be necessary.
“When I look at other people and their situations in the counseling, it’s horrible that these things happen,” she said. “Not everybody is as lucky as I am to have somebody change. They’re always going to have fear at their door.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail email@example.com.