DUBOIS — Domestic violence does not discriminate.
It occurs in the big cities and in the rural country.
Over her 18-year career as the director for Community Action Inc.'s Crossroads Project, Susan McLaughlin has tried to maintain a high level of service for domestic violence victims in the rural setting of Jefferson and Clearfield counties.
But with the surprising news she recently received — the DuBois shelter is closing — McLaughlin is worried that the service may be threatened.
"The shelters are all at capacity and pretty much have been for quite some time," she said. "It might be due to the changes in economy or the lack of availability for rentals. But whatever the reason, we are to capacity. A new shelter is needed now probably more than ever before."
The Crossroads Project of Jefferson and Clearfield counties recently learned that the church that houses domestic violence victims and their families will close. McLaughlin was originally given the closing date of Dec. 17, which now gives her only a little over a month to prepare; however, there may be a little light at the end of the tunnel.
"At this point in time, our landlord is going to allow us to stay there on a month-by-month basis," she said. "We're going to go 30 days at a time. That's what the church board wants. They want to be able to help us in any way that they can."
Although this gives her a little more time to find a new location, her ultimate goal is to find a new home,and quickly.
"The church has been very good to us, but it doesn't change the fact that we have to move on and find a secure location," McLaughlin said.
In the last fiscal year, the Crossroads Project has provided service to 827 adults, significant others and children who were victims of domestic violence. Additionally, Crossroads provided 3,667 counseling hours for adults and children and 2,295 shelter days to adults and children.
And in the last fiscal year, the shelter in Punxsutawney, and in DuBois, have consistently stayed full-to-capacity.
McLaughlin estimates 120 people, who would potentially use the DuBois shelter, may be turned away unless a new location is found.
"The bottom line is, we still need a new home," she said. "We're actively seeking a new home."
McLaughlin said the Crossroads Project is looking for a four-bedroom house in fairly reasonable condition.
Another necessity is to find a home within walking distance to downtown DuBois.
"Most of our victims don't have transportation when they're in the shelter," she said. "If we were close to town, they would be able to do their own shopping, attend medical appointments and get their kids to school."
It would also be in a location where service is most needed. About 60 percent of the population of Jefferson and Clearfield counties resides within 10 miles of DuBois.
"Our largest gap is in DuBois," McLaughlin said. "It's not just within DuBois, but within a 10 to 15 mile radius of DuBois. We really, truly need a shelter in DuBois."
According to McLaughlin, the current DuBois shelter houses between eight to 13 individuals, which can sometimes translate to one to three families at a time.
"Victims of domestic violence come in all shapes and sizes," she said.
While 90 percent of domestic violence victims receive help and shelter from friends and family, about 10 percent seek help elsewhere, especially those who don't have support systems.
McLaughlin said the Crossroads Project, which is a part of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), a network of shelters across the state and the nation, has sometimes contracted services to other shelters in the area, but that might also be impossible.
Since 1976, PCADV has overseen the growth and planned the development of this network from the original nine founding programs to the current 61 community-based programs. Over the past three decades, these programs have offered safety and refuge to close to 2 million victims and their children in the state.
"Currently, all of the shelters are full," she said. "And if you're not from this area, where do you turn?"
Other shelters in the area, with which Crossroads has worked collaboratively with in the past, include: Haven House, homeless shelter, DuBois; the Holmes House, a men's shelter in Punxsutawney and Clarion; the Good Samaritan House, a men's shelter in Clearfield; the Marion House, Clearfield; SAFE, Inc., in Clarion; and the Alice Paul House in Indiana.
"Those programs are all full," she said. "There used to be times when they weren't all operating at capacity, but now they are."
Although McLaughlin believes the economy is a contributing factor to the increase in shelter use, she said "economics do not cause domestic violence."
"Domestic violence is about power and control," she said. "What economics can do is take away other resources that might be available. It does have an impact. So we become needed by a larger amount of the population of victims that are out there."
McLaughlin said Crossroads would need a minimum of $55,000 to purchase a property and a minimum of $15,000 for safety items, including a residential sprinkler system and audible fire alarms, which totals about $70,000.
At this juncture, Crossroads only has about half of the needed funds. They still need to raise about $30,000.
However, most of the funds that are reserved for the shelter have come from private donations. The shelter in Punxsutawney was also a product of community support, donated by the United Methodist Church in Punxsutawney.
"If it weren't for the community support, we wouldn't have this (Punxsutawney) facility," she said.
McLaughlin is hoping for another positive outcome in DuBois.
"I can't really describe how much it means to me personally, but I can describe what it means to those 120 individuals that would use in the next year," she said. "It's not a perfect world, but how are are going to be provide safety and security for those individuals? It could be life or death for those that use the shelters. I absolutely know that we need this service. It's an absolute necessity."
Direct Services Coordinator Cathy Riggie, who has also worked for Crossroads Project for 18 years, agrees.
"It better be possible," Riggie said. "It has to be."
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