Barriers to abuse shelters overcome


Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 7, 2007 at 10:41 p.m.

Donna Fagan knew when she took over as executive director of Another Way that there would be no cookie-cutter solutions to solve the financial and operational problems there.

Over the past seven years, Fagan has shepherded the agency into one of the state's largest agencies for battered women and children. Another Way, formed by volunteers in 1991 to provide a safe living space for battered women and children, encompasses two shelters and multiple outreach programs to serve women and their children in Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette and Levy counties.

Beginning as one of the smallest shelters in Florida, Another Way's board of directors clashed and once caused the United Way to withhold funds until an audit could be conducted. A court order was issued to prevent founding volunteers from conducting any shelter business, and at least one of the buildings being used to house women and children was in danger of being closed because it was unsafe.

"This program was just like programs everywhere else — they were started by well-meaning people, including survivors of domestic violence — and they all struggled to get going," said Fagan, who worked in two other shelters before taking over as head of Another Way seven years ago. "It's because of people who were willing to take the risks and do that hard work in the beginning that these shelters exist today."

Another Way has constructed two 35-bed shelters over the past two years, one in Columbia County and another in Levy County. Fagan and her staff of 28 operate with an annual budget of $1.3 million — about 80 percent coming from federal and state grants. In 2005 the nonprofit organization provided 14,000 shelter nights with each shelter night representing one person sleeping in a shelter-provided bed for one night.

The growth and development of Another Way parallels the growth and development of other shelters around the state, according to an e-mail from Motta Trula, director of the Domestic Violence Program Office for the Department of Children and Families.

"Domestic violence centers began as a grassroots effort to provide refuge and support to women and their children escaping abuse who had little options available to them," Trula wrote. "The first centers were referred to as safe houses with their beginnings in private homes or modest houses purchased with community donations, without government assistance, and operated principally by volunteers."

In 1978, Florida's Legislature "recognized that domestic violence center services are fundamental to victim safety," and began providing some money as well as setting standards for the centers to be certified.

Trula said Florida now has 41 state-certified centers with 1,534 beds that receive $20 million annually from federal and state programs.

The original Another Way shelters in Chiefland and Lake City were in century-old, wood-frame homes that had all the problems other old houses have — leaking roofs, creaking floors, unpredictable plumbing and erratic heating systems.

The new shelters are single-story, concrete block buildings with separate areas for women with children and for women on their own. Each bedroom has a bathroom attached and each pod has its own kitchen, dining area and living room space. The appliances, furniture and linens are all brand new.

Women are welcome to stay for up to 90 days on an emergency basis and up to 18 months as they transition into a new life without their abusive partners.

"Unfortunately, I don't think we are going to go out of business any time soon," Fagan said. "Although most shelters started out as volunteer operations, they really do need to be run as a business," Fagan said. "Even though we are in the business of helping people, we still need to balance our budgets and be professionals."

Tom Barnes, the Gainesville area spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, said that as shelters have evolved, so has understanding of what is involved in a violent domestic relationship.

"A question we have heard a lot is, 'Why doesn't she leave?' but that is a secondary question," Barnes said. "What we really do have to ask first is why he doesn't stop hitting her."

Karen Voyles can be reached at 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com

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