Domestic violence shelter comes out of hiding
Kevin Pieper, USA TODAY 4:57 p.m. EST February 3, 2014 A small but growing number of shelters have decided to disclose their location. STORY HIGHLIGHTS There are about 1,700 domestic violence shelters in the United States After 25 years, Serenity decided to hang a sign out front Some facilities remain confidential, but disclosure can alert those in need to services MOUNTAIN HOME , Ark. — Serenity, a domestic violence shelter in this small rural Arkansas community of 12,000, is moving to a new facility. And for the first time in its 25-year history it will hang a sign out front. Serenity is one of approximately 1,700 domestic violence shelters in the United States, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), and it is among a small but growing number which have either decided to disclose their location or are considering doing so. "When we were celebrating our 25th anniversary it became apparent to us that a lot of people in our community did not know that we existed," said Paulette Hill, Serenity executive director. "If someone needs our services the last thing we need to do is stay hidden." Women's Center-Youth & Family Services in Stockton, Calif., recently purchased a new shelter in Tracy, also called Serenity House, and Chief Executive Officer Joelle Gomez said they are considering disclosing its location. "We're very much leaning that way," said Gomez. "Our philosophy is making our services, of course safe, but also accessible. If you have a great program and nobody knows how to get to it, that's not good," Gomez said. If someone needs our services the last thing we need to do is stay hidden. Paulette Hill, Serenity executive director In Madison, Wis., Domestic Abuse Intervention Services is constructing a new facility which will be public for the first time in its history. Harmony House in Springfield, Mo., disclosed its location several years ago. "That (putting up a sign) means this is serious business," said Cindy Southworth, vice president of development and innovation with the Washington D.C.-based NNEDV. "Confidential locations, sadly, are still needed in this day and age, but on the flip side putting a sign out front sends a positive message that domestic violence is not a private matter. It tells a community that it's everyone's responsibility to keep these families safe." At Serenity's new shelter, security cameras and alarm systems are being installed, and the facility will be staffed 24/7. The county sheriff's office is a block away. Over the years, St. Martha's Hall in St. Louis has looked at disclosing their location, said Executive Director Michelle Schiller-Baker. "But we've always decided to remain confidential. It works for us and women often tell me they like that our shelter location is confidential," she said. In New York, state regulations prohibit shelters from disclosing their locations. Keeping a location confidential can be difficult for some shelters, said Debby Tucker, executive director of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence. "We thought it (keeping a shelter's location confidential) was a way to increase safety, especially when we didn't have the wherewithal to improve the building's security," Tucker said of the first shelter she worked at in Austin, Texas. "It didn't take too long for the address to become known anyway." Pieper also reports for The Baxter Bulletin in Mountain Home, Ark.