• 55°

Shelter gets state grant

Harriet’s House, a domestic violence shelter and crisis center, will be able to continue its work with battered and abused women and children thanks to a grant awarded by Gov. Bob Riley this week.

The Demopolis center is 16-bed facility located in an old home that serves women and children who have been displaced by domestic violence.

“We are a domestic violence program which includes in-shelter services and out-of-shelter services,” Executive Director Susanna Smith-Naisbett said. “We provide far more than a shelter, and we work very hard to dispel the myth of shelters.”

Smith-Naisbett said the center, which has just been awarded a $107,722 VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) grant, not only helps battered women and their children during the immediate days following the victim’s escape from abuse, but they help the victim establish goals and work toward those goals of self-empowerment.

“We provide counseling, child advocacy, personal advocacy, court advocacy – if the batterer has been arrested and the victim has to go to court to testify against them, we will go to court with them. We also try to educate them on domestic violence and the dynamics of domestic violence and let them know how it works within the family,” Smith-Naisbett said.

She said all services are free, and a caseworker works with that family to set the goals necessary to get them back on their own feet.

“Women can come and stay here with their children and we will help them find housing, employment, and in some cases, education,” she said. “They develop an individual case plan, it’s a 30-day plan. Close to the end of the 30 days, we make a determination whether to extend their time at the shelter. If they have been working toward their goals then they can stay another 30 days.”

Smith-Naisbett said the assessment may sound harsh, but she said it is to help those women who have been victimized by allowing them help themselves.

“They can’t just come and sit around and do nothing. But if they meet their goals, we will continue to help them because we know it takes time to reestablish yourself,” she said. “It’s hard enough for people who are not in their situation to save up the money for a place to stay, but for those whose situation is far less desirable, it takes even longer. But when we do for people and then they leave us, they’re not any better off than they were when they came to us.”

In addition to the services offered by Harriett’s House, the home works with other agencies in the area to help victims get the assistance they need.

“We make referrals to other agencies in our service area,” Smith-Naisbett said. “If they need public assistance, parenting classes or ged classes, obviously Harriett’s House is not going to have that, but we will refer them to someone who can help. We depend heavily on social service agencies in this area.”

The grant, Smith-Naisbett said, will pay for some salaries, those known as direct-assist positions, such as a caseworker. But, she said, “that money doesn’t come free.”

“This grant requires a 20 percent cash match,” she said. “That means for every 80 cents we get we have to put in 20 cents.”

She said that is where the community’s involvement comes in.

“That’s why we have to depend so heavily on the community for support,” she said. She noted that the cash match is a way the government makes sure an agency or organization is being supported, too.

That community support has become increasingly necessary over the last few years because of cuts to the grant.

“The funds for that grant come from people who have been fined in Federal Court,” she said. “Since 9-11 a lot of that money has gone to the victims of 9-11. We recognize there are other victims out there, so we understand the cuts, but it makes community support even more important.”

For more information, or to contact Harriett’s House call (800) 650-6522. Smith-Naisbett said that 800 number is a statewide number and will link the caller to the domestic violence shelter that serves the area they are calling from.