Source: Fairbanks Daily News
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A new $9 million shelter for battered women and their children is opening in the town of Bethel to address the growing problem of domestic abuse in the largely Native region, facility operators said Tuesday.
The 30-bed crisis shelter, scheduled to open Friday, replaces a smaller facility run by the Tundra Women’s Coalition. Coalition director Michelle DeWitt said there is an increasing need for more beds than the 22 that were squeezed into the old shelter.
“The demand for shelter has been far greater than our capacity to house people,” DeWitt said. “This will allow us to open our doors to help more families in need.”
The facility will serve residents from the commercial hub town and about 50 surrounding villages. Four out of five clients are from outlying villages.
The old shelter took in nearly 400 people during the fiscal year that ended this summer, compared with less than 300 who sought shelter in fiscal year 2008.
The new shelter, funded by various private and government grants, also has far better security including more cameras and tighter control at entrances.
The building represents more than safety for Hanna White, a client from the Yupik Eskimo village of Napakiak.
“It gave me time to be by myself and think things over and there are counselors here who help,” said White, who looked at the old, drafty facility as a welcome refuge.
The 45-year-old said she moved to the old shelter two weeks ago to get away from her daughter’s boyfriend, who was abusive when he drank. White, who just got a job at a thrift store in Bethel, sees the new building as a reflection of her new life, a safe place to lift her spirits.
“If feels more secure, and women who come in will be more comfortable there,” she said.
Most clients are victims of domestic violence, like White, but many also have been sexually assaulted, DeWitt said. Alaska has long reported the highest sexual assault rate in the nation, and authorities say the problem is worst in rural areas.
Seeking safety is a complicated process for abuse victims in rural Alaska, said Sandy Samaniego, executive director of the state’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
In villages, where everyone knows each other, it’s hard for victims to remain anonymous, she said. They are sometimes shunned if alleged abusers play an important role in the community, such as subsistence hunting.
Providing a shelter in a hub town brings its own issues because it requires victims to give up the comfort and security of their own homes, Samaniego said. Still, the Bethel shelter plays an important role, she added.
“Our first need is safety and there just aren’t the resources anywhere to provide a shelter in each village,” she said. “It’s absolutely critical to victims that they’re not being hurt.”
Source: Fairbanks Daily News