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Overcrowded abuse shelter needs volunteers, donations

The headline reads Abuse victims crowd shelter. The June 20 article could have been written about the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Shelter here in the west Pasco area, but it referred to the Spring in Tampa. The Spring sent out a plea for public help, saying the shelter was running out of room.

Coincidentally, the Salvation Army staff has been commenting recently on the fact that the shelter has been at capacity for several weeks now with no letup in sight. We have 32 beds, and as soon as a bed is empty, it is filled again in a day or so. We have never seen this jump in need in the two years since I have been here.

The theory is that many of the women have children at home full time since school is out. They don't want their children witnessing the violence or to end up being victims themselves. Reports show that 80 to 90 percent of children in homes where there is domestic violence are aware of the violence in the home. Fifty percent of spouse abusers also abuse their children. Batterers sometimes intentionally injure their children in order to intimidate and control their partner. Often the victim plans her escape, waiting for the children to complete the school year, not wanting to interrupt the children's studies and friendships.

A common pattern in abusive relationships is the cycle of abuse: the tension building, an eruption of violence, and then the next phase, called the honeymoon _ a confusing stage in which partners reconcile and the abuser is affectionate, but only temporarily.

Due to many financial concerns in families brought about by the economy, the tension might be building more quickly than usual. Abusers often use financial concerns as an excuse to abuse. Unfortunately, many of the women coming into our shelter have been controlled in a number of financial ways: not allowed to have use of the family checkbook, given small stipends of money to buy groceries, isolated from friends and family, and not allowed the opportunities to have a job or further their education.

The average stay for women and children at the shelter is six to eight weeks. If we can't find space for someone, we refer to The Dawn in Hernando County, Sunrise in east Pasco, Casa in St. Petersburg, the Haven in Clearwater, as well as the Spring in Tampa. These are all programs that are considered one of the 40 certified domestic violence programs in Florida. It is common for the programs to network with each other to provide support and information, as well as to put someone up from another area where the beds are filled. If need be, people will sleep on the couch until a place is found for them.

Having received grant money through the Pasco County Homeless Coalition, the Salvation Army Shelter is in the middle of remodeling bathrooms, laying down new flooring and painting the walls, which all add to the chaos. The Salvation Army has 19 children and 12 women in shelter as this is written.

Due to the increase in need, we are quickly running out of supplies, and we are asking for donations of twin-size sheets, pillows, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrushes, diapers, canned goods, Tylenol, paper products, small alarm clocks, personal hygiene items, socks and underwear. If you are cleaning out your closets or replacing old pots and pans, dishes, etc., we'll take those too.

We could desperately use volunteers to baby-sit the children, rock the babies, come in for an hour around bedtime to read to them and to help them settle down for the night. The children's lives have been in such chaos that a helpful, kind, loving presence is greatly appreciated.

Meal time is always a difficult time. If you have a talent for cooking for large groups, there is a volunteer spot for you. The women would love to have guidance and assistance at dinner time. We could also use volunteers to sort and fold clothing donations. Call Ayleen Glenn for information about volunteering at 727-856-6498.

Our children's counselor Diane Freeman recently was able to take the women to an outing to the Show Palace due to the generosity of the owner, who donated the tickets. Some of these women have never been to any type of live theater in their life. What a treat and a chance to get a break from the confines of shelter life!

Please drop off any donations to our warehouse at 8040 N Washington St., Port Richey. Checks can be sent to P.O. Box 5517, Hudson, FL 34674. Our Outreach Center telephone number is (727) 842-9717. The hotline is (727) 856-5797. The state hotline is 1-800-500-1119. Please call for information or help.

_ Michelle Anderson is director of the Salvation Army domestic violence program in west Pasco.