Does town need a safe house?
Supporters of a local domestic violence response group say they’ll seek state and local funding for a permanent “safe house” in Haines for female victims and their children.
Jackie Mazeikas, domestic violence health educator for Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, said there’s a need for a permanent shelter here, rather than emergency accommodation in private homes, as has been done in the past.
“Too often, women who I deal with on a daily basis do not want to leave the security of what limited family support they may have here. Or possibly, they have children in school and do not want to take them out and force them into a different school and different surroundings,” Mazeikas wrote in a letter sent to local businesses asking for support.
A shelter could be established in a new building or in a rented or donated space, she said, while emphasizing an urgency to getting something in place. “We need something immediate. We need something now. It’s time to really confront this,” she said.
The goal is to raise enough money to rent, or if possible, purchase, a three- to five-bedroom house, she said. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell mentioned a shelter here during comments he made at the Haines Chamber of Commerce banquet in November.
Becky’s Place, an organization formed around the idea of a shelter, received non-profit status in November, opening new avenues for fundraising. It’s named for Mazeikas’ sister, who died at the hands of an abuser.
In the past, Haines has sheltered women in temporary, secret safe houses in private residences, but women could only stay a couple days. Some uprooted their lives, moving to the AWARE shelter in Juneau. Others returned to abusive homes.
Mazeikas said she’s seen the need for a safe house. A few weeks ago, a woman showed up at her house, telling her she knows of a few others who would stay at one. She also receives calls every week from women seeking a place to stay. Other callers from around the region ask if a house has been secured yet.
A woman passing through Haines who was “running literally for her life” got stranded here when a ferry wasn’t available.
Haines Borough police figures show that in 2012, there were 12 domestic-violence related calls, and 14 domestic-violence protective orders issued. Police arrested eight suspects and filed 19 charges.
Data from the same year at a Haines counseling service shows that there were 14 domestic-violence incidents reported and 86 sexual assault clients were served.
The envisioned safe house would be enclosed by a fence and equipped with outdoor security cameras. Police would be aware of the house’s occupancy and patrol the area. Staff and screened volunteers would be on site at all times.
Since the larger goal of the safe house is to help those in abusive situations get back on their feet, the “homelike” environment would be more than just a place to go to as an escape, Mazeikas said. It would offer hope and non-judgmental help, and would help those subjected to domestic violence or assault “get back their power of choice,” she said.
It would connect women with resources that would enable them to become independent and have a home of their own, with access to continuing education, job training, preparing a resume, food and clothing.
Becky’s Place will partner with other organizations in town, including counseling services, with Mazeikas still acting as case manager. She also hopes to tap into individuals in the community who can teach skills, from quilting to computer skills, for example.
She understands that each individual will have different needs – and that she can’t help everyone. “Some cases may be too far beyond us, but if I don’t have the answers, I’ll find them.”
Becky’s Place directors include Mazeikas, husband Stan Mazeikas, former borough Mayor Jan Hill and Carol Clifton. The group is seeking to add four to six additional board members.
The board is still laying out the business plan, as well as rules and guidelines to ensure safety. It also is studying other safe houses in Alaska.
Mayor Stephanie Scott this week said she hasn’t been involved enough to gauge the need for a safe house in Haines. This week, board member Hill sent a letter to Gov. Parnell thanking him for acknowledging the problem in Haines and asking him for support. Mazeikas encourages residents to do the same.
Interim police chief Simon Ford said he could see the benefits of an established safe house. “Domestic violence is a huge problem, even within our community. The police do our part by investigating reports of domestic violence, arresting perpetrators and prosecuting cases, but Ms. Mazeikas’s safe house program fills a great need for the victims of these crimes.”
To make a tax-deductable donation or to get involved, call Mazeikas at 303-0076, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Becky’s Place website at http://www.beckysplacehavenofhope.org.