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Helping Hands

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Homelessness, hunger and job loss are not the only challenges that sometimes increase during the holidays. Another horrific problem is domestic violence. Domestic violence is an issue every day of the week, but the increase in stress and alcohol consumption associated with the holidays can bring out the worst in some people. Last October, at a rally in Spokane acknowledging domestic violence issues in the Inland Northwest, a drum beat every 15 seconds, symbolizing how often a woman in America is beaten by an intimate partner.

    I found the following information on the Idaho Council on Domestic Violence and Victim Assistance web site: “Women in their high-school years to their mid-20s are nearly three times as vulnerable to attack by a husband, boyfriend or former partner as those in other age groups, stated a Bureau of Justice Statistics study. But domestic violence victims between the ages of 35 and 49 are most likely to be killed, the Justice Department said, citing statistics from 1999. Sixteen out of every 1,000 women between the ages of 16 and 24 were attacked by an intimate in that year – the highest rate of any age group, the report said. There were a total of 791,210 “intimate partner violence” victims. Eighty-five percent of the attacks were against women, including 1,218 murders, 91,470 rapes and sexual assaults, 65,970 robberies, 68,810 aggravated assaults and 444,860 simple assaults. Overall, six women out of 1,000 were victims of domestic violence in 1999.”

    To help counter this situation in Bonner County, Cyd Savoy and Jo Johnson of the Bonner County Homeless Task Force stepped to the plate and created Harmony House, a place for abused women and children. The location is kept secret to ensure the safety of the women. Women can stay at Harmony House up to 30 days and it can hold approximately eight women with children. Women get assistance like counseling, court advocates and help obtaining restraining orders. There is help for men also. Convicted abusers in some instances get the choice of going to jail or going to classes to learn how to control their anger. They pay for the classes and attendance is mandatory. Absenteeism is reported to the judge who can resort back to the jail sentence if warranted. Although domestic violence is often man against woman, that is not always the case. Statistics show that women are sometimes convicted of abuse; there are also reports of same-sex domestic abuse. Citing the same Justice Department report: “A little more than half of domestic violence crimes - against men and women - between ‘93 and ‘99 were committed by a current boyfriend or girlfriend, a third by a spouse and the rest by an ex-spouse. About 10 percent of domestic crimes against men and two percent of domestic crimes against women were committed by a partner of the same gender,” the report found.

    If a person finds themselves threatened or abused, the first step to take is to call the Domestic Crisis Hotline phone number, 265-3586. That number is staffed 24 hours per day seven days a week and is answered by trained individuals on the Victim Advocate Service Team (VAST). These individuals work for the Sheriff’s department under the supervision of Dot Clark. Clark has three advocates, including herself, to cope with the influx of calls. Statistics are kept on a monthly basis and VAST averages about 30 calls per month, although it can be as low as fifteen per month. In addition, the VAST team assists law enforcement officers at the scene. They transport clients, help with filling out paperwork, attend hearings and court proceedings. It is a daunting task. If individuals are interested in helping the VAST team, the first step is to get some training in advocacy work. Periodically the BCHTF offers such training.

    “There has been more training and increased responsiveness from the Sheriff's office under Sheriff Jarvis”, stated Deborah Baptist, BCHTF’s new Executive Director. “We really appreciate the fact that domestic violence is getting a higher priority.” Although Baptist took over as Executive Director in November, she is not new to BCHTF. Previously she was in charge of Harmony House.

    The BCHTF also has a day care called Little Feet which operates on a sliding scale payment schedule. Anyone can bring their children there and it has all of the required state certifications.     This week, the BCHTF is opening more facilities in the Trestle Creek area. The location was previously known as Friendship Village and was donated by the wife of Reverend Bill Freeman, who wanted his work with low income families to be continued. The location will target single women and families with children. The houses are three bedroom two bath homes that were built by young people enrolled in the Americorp program. The first house will be called The Holland House, in honor of Don Holland senior. His wife, Bunny Holland, continues to serve on the BCHTF Board. If you are moved to help the BCHTF in their endeavors, call them at 265-2592 or email them at [email protected] They always need volunteers to give time, goods, clothing or money.

    Another source of help for children is Kinderhaven. Kinderhaven is a non-profit group that works with the Idaho department of Health and Welfare, the Bonner County Juvenile Probation department and the Sheriff’s department to ensure a safe place for abused or neglected children. Generally that is how most children end up in Kinderhaven, although at times women have contacted them directly if they are struggling to keep it together and the children are in danger. Kinderhaven can house up to twelve children; there are currently ten in residence with one more child expected by Christmas. They can take boys up to 12 years of age and girls to age 18. Kinderhaven can always use cash donations, as they run on a shoestring budget, and state funding has just been cut for social services. Right now gifts for young children for Christmas would also be greatly appreciated. There are three teenage girls, a seven year old and twelve year old girl, three boys ages eight, nine and twelve, and two infant girls – eight months and sixteen months.

    Sometimes when we are warm, comfortable and focused on our own family’s needs, it is hard to mentally confront the uncomfortable, the painful and sometimes tragic reality of those that live near the edge. But it is important for us to acknowledge that in our county that struggles so much with poverty, we are a giving people. The Bonner County Homeless Task Force, Kinderhaven, the Food Center, the Bonner Gospel Mission and other organizations focused on helping the under-privileged are operating in part because of people’s generous donations of time and money. Together, we can make a difference, one person at a time.

Groups in Sanders County have also stepped up to the plate in the battle against domestic violence. Contact the Sanders County Coalition for Families via fax at 406-827-9111. They can be located at 303 Main in Thompson Falls.


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Carol Curtis

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