The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 16, 2009

Women in Transition: No room at the inn

With explosion of abuse, grant needed for shelter expansion

By Gina Morton

LEWISBURG -- With a troubled economy comes an increase in domestic abuse, said a Valley official who is seeking $80,000 Tuesday to double the size of her shelter for abused women and children.

So full is the Susquehanna Valley Women in Transition shelter that Chief Executive Officer DiAnn Baxley said those seeking help are being referred outside the area. The organization, which offers counseling, shelter and other emergency services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties, is requesting $79,080 in Community Development Block Grant money from Union County.

The county commissioners will decide Tuesday which of 10 requests will receive portions of the $262,600 they have to offer.

The Women in Transition agency needs to double its shelter size by adding four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

"It has to happen," Baxley said. "It's really not an option. We're just hoping that we do get the support."

Commissioner Preston Boop said Friday he and his colleagues have yet to decide on the block grant allocations, but added that, personally, he was in favor of the project.

"I think it's an excellent idea," Boop said. "I'm kind of excited to see that they're upgrading their shelter facility."

The agency's expansion project will cost $396,000. The organization has secured about $128,000 so far, including $60,000 in block grants from Kelly Township and $15,000 in block grant money from Lewisburg borough.

Plans to renovate and expand have been going on for more than a year, Baxley said. The existing shelter can accommodate about three families with its three bedrooms and one bathroom.

The expansion would add three bedrooms and one bathroom and a separate, handicapped-accessible bedroom and bathroom.

The existing kitchen has a stove, sink and refrigerator, but the expansion would add another cooking station and a dining area for families to sit together. A fully accessible stove and sink also would be installed.

"Work stations will be created for children to work on homework at night, for women or parents to be able to access the Internet to job hunt or work on resumes," Baxley said. "It will really give them more capability of making it on their own."

No choice but to expand

With the rise this past year in abuse and assaults, Baxley said the organization has no other choice but to expand.

She said there is a rise in abuse, and it is being seen in the Valley -- so much so, that victims have been forced to be referred outside of the Valley because the shelters are full.

"We can't take on anyone else," Baxley said, adding that victims often have a difficult time finding housing after seeking help at the shelter.

Often the abuser is the one handling the finances, and when the victim looks for low-income housing, there is usually a waiting list.

"Because of their status, they do get priority on the listing," she said, "but even so, the waiting list is two to three months, sometimes even longer. We want capacity for an individual who needs to stay longer and still have space for those who need immediate shelter.

"With the economy and many losing jobs, more and more people are needing and more people are vying for the same."

Economy takes toll on giving

Women in Transition's main sources of funding come from the Department of Welfare through various organizations, as well as private fundraisers -- its two largest are an annual auction and a financial appeal.

The agency also receives financial help from the United Way, several area foundations and various grants.

The appeal for donations, however, is down this year.

"I think because of the economy," Baxley said. "People put notes in saying they were sorry, they'll donate more when things get better. People know it's hard, (that) it is affecting us. They're still giving, just not as much."

"We have to do this"

Boop, the Union County commissioner, said the board traditionally has allocated the block grant money to water, sewer and environmental projects for small communities, which are always struggling for funds.

"We put a substantial amount of money in water and sewer in the communities, and I think that's an excellent use of money," he said. "It's needed and well spent. But I also have compassion for some social challenges that are being dealt with with the shelter expansion project."

Whatever the outcome of Tuesday's decision, Baxley said the project will move forward.

"We're going to keep going, keep trying," she said. "We have to do this."

The organization also is seeking a $200,000 federal emergency shelter grant, allocated through the state Department of Community and Economic Development. Union County will serve as the applicant for Women in Transition's pursuit of the matching grant.

Baxley said they will try to raise the other $200,000 through fundraising, private donors, block grants and the Degenstein Foundation.

"It's important for the community to understand that helping individuals of domestic violence and sexual assault is really a community responsibility," she said. "It's outrageous that this (abuse) is still happening in 2009. It shouldn't get to that point. ... The victims have had tough times, and it's nice to have a very welcoming space for them that they can work on building their self-esteem back."

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