ALBANY — While Liberty House continues its mission of serving and educating individuals and families impacted by domestic violence, it is undergoing a capital campaign to fund a new shelter facility that will begin construction later this year.
Katalina Valdes, program manager for Liberty House, brought an update to the Albany Lions Club on Tuesday concerning the latest activities within the organization.
Valdes said a capital campaign began a few weeks ago to raise money for a new shelter to replace the existing one — which was built in the mid-1980s.
“We have definitely outgrown our shelter, and the repairs have been adding up quickly,” she said. “We hope to break ground in late spring, early summer. (The new facility) has already gone to bid, so we are making great progress.”
Valdes said Liberty House wants to make the shelter more of a “homey” place with enhanced compatibility to healing. The facility will not have stairs so that it poses less of a safety risk to young children or others who are disabled.
Liberty House provides services to domestic violence victims and their children at no charge. Officials with the organization say most of the victims find themselves in a cycle of violence without seeing it coming. There is often, they say, a pattern of behavior that evolves slowly.
“They don’t even realize the full extent of the abuse they are in,” Valdes said.
She said abusers want power and control over their victims, leading them to do desperate things. Over time, they can isolate their victims.
Sometimes it takes removing the victim hundreds of miles away to break the cycle of violence.
“It can happen so slowly, they may not realize it is happening,” Valdes said. “It can even happen to men, especially if they are taught not to hit a woman back.
“They are in a situation where they are at a loss of what to do, especially if children are involved — both men and women.”
When children are involved, the matter of custody battles and financial support play a factor in how long an abusive situation is tolerated.
“(Victims of abuse) will keep (children) in a situation they know is not safe,” Valdes said. “They think what is best is staying with the child.
“We had one victim that took years. She had to save up money to leave because she was not allowed to work. It is incredibly difficult for people to leave.”
One of the things Liberty House encourages is safety planning, because a protective order means little more than a piece of paper to some abusers.
“(The protective order) only works if the offender cares about the consequences (of breaking it),” she said.
Many victims come to Liberty House with nothing more than the clothes on their back — no driver’s license, birth certificate or Social Security card. Part of the organization’s duties center around reconnecting victims with such documentation so they can make it on their own, along with supplying hygiene products to make them feel comfortable.
“We do anything we can do for these victims,” Valdes said. “It is long-term work; (some take) a year or two. Leaving and being able to stay safe is not something that can happen overnight.
“(Many) victims leave seven or eight times before leaving for good. Leaving is hard. It takes time to heal from those wounds.”
A lot of victims enter abusive relationships in their late teens and early 20s, so they have not known anything else. Valdes said it is important to recognize when a relationship is a bad one, which is why Liberty House offers educational opportunities for teens. For instance, Valdes said, a significant other who is constantly checking in may be in fact trying to monitor where their victim is at all times. If jealously persists early, that is not a good sign.
The men coming out of abusive relationships and into the doors of Liberty House are put in hotels. Like they would be in the shelter, they are provided meals and hygiene products — but the shelter itself is for women and children only. Men being abused by the women in their lives is something still stigmatized. They may be taught not to hit women but come into a relationship with a woman who is aggressive.
Valdes said the sex of the victim does not diminish the seriousness of the circumstances.
“There have been male victims who have lost their lives,” she said. “If there is stalking, the level of danger is increasing. Men can be victims of that just as easily as females can.”
In its education programs, Liberty House has its participants make decisions in a scenario presented to them, and those decisions are analyzed to determine why that decision was made. In cases of elder abuse, the organization typically refers victims to the Georgia Department of Human Services because that agency has the resources to handle such incidents.
Valdes said the door is open on domestic violence in part through a high incidence of childhood trauma and that the organization does not expect victims to “get over it.”
“We definitely do not support that statement,” she said. “(Victims) need support, and sometimes you need counseling.”
Liberty House has a counselor who works with domestic abuse victims free of charge. Two support groups are available through the organization, one of which focuses on parenting.
“The child at home is seeing it. That’s trauma, and it is affecting them,” Valdes said. “(Studies show) children are hearing and seeing things when the parents don’t think they are (and they are more likely to enter into an abusive relationship).”
The campaign for the new shelter offers donors opportunities to give monthly in amounts of $5, $10, $25, $50 or $100 — which can buy between one to 24 nights of safe shelter. Ten people giving at each level provides $22,800 yearly, or 456 shelter nights.
Anyone wishing to contribute to Liberty House can donate via PayPal at https://www.paypal.me/libertyhouse, and indicate “monthly giving” in the notes of the first donation to generate monthly reminders. Donors can also download the RoundUp app in their iPhone or Android devices and give the change from debit and credit card transactions.
Among the organization’s current needs are toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning products.
Liberty House is available at (229) 439-7094, or through a 24-hour crisis line at (800) 334-2836 or (229) 439-7065. For further information, visit http://www.libertyhouseofalbany.com/.