ANDERSON – While holidays are supposed to be filled with joy, they can also be filled with stress. Increased stress can push some families over the edge into violence. Alternatives is the local emergency shelter available to house women and children seeking to escape domestic battery.
“Movies often portray shelters as a warehouse setting with rows of cots,” said Mary Jo Lee, CEO for 20 years. “We have had women say they would have come sooner if they had known what a wonderful place this is. They feared their children wouldn’t be safe. We have extensive security and we respect the dignity and privacy of the families that come to us.”
A beautiful and welcoming facility built in 2005 meets all the unusual space needs of a shelter. In addition to a suite that offers a bedroom and bathroom that can house four family members each, the layout features gathering rooms (much like living rooms), a commercial-sized kitchen (where meals are prepared by staff members), a large dining room for fellowship, a preschool, playground, job training facility and offices.
“A shelter has so many unique needs,” said Lee. “We looked at existing structures and consulted with architects but their estimates were always higher than building new. So we got to design our own building.”
Alternatives has been serving the community for 35 years and was formerly occupying three adjacent houses on West 10th Street. Trying to cram 40 women and children into two-bathroom homes became a monumental struggle.
In the new location, 48 beds comfortably accommodate clients. Cots are kept on hand to service overflow and avoid turning away someone in need. Overflow has been fairly common since last spring.
“This has been a really tough year with domestic violence,” said Lee. “The economy has affected homelessness but also domestic violence. Some families pull together when they experience a crisis. But families on the edge of abuse who experience a crisis, such as a job loss, erupt in violence. A high majority of our clients say that they had not experienced this level of abuse before (the economic downturn).”