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Domestic violence shelter opening to increased need in Immokalee amid pandemic

Communities are often in need of safe havens for domestic violence victims. Immokalee is no different, especially in the midst of the pandemic and victims being on lockdown with their potential abusers.

“Being at home, sheltering in place with an abuser,many more children are being exposed to domestic violence at home,” said Director for Outreach Karen Harmony.

“We’re safe for victims of abuse. We’re also safe during a pandemic, and we’re also safe for victims who are undocumented in our community,” said Linda Oberhaus, CEO of the Shelley Stayer Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence.

With the shelter opening this week, staff are better able to help assist people right in their community. “Now that we have an opportunity to literally provide safe shelter here, right here in the community where these families live, it’s going to be transformative.”

Harmony said there are different types of abuse. “We have some people that will experience verbal abuse, so someone that’s putting them down and calling them names, really tearing down a person’s self-esteem … Other cases where you see financial abuse, so controlling the person’s assets you know? … Others may experience physical violence …” she said.

The goal of the shelter is to get women and all people to break out of abusive situations and find their voice. Many may fear, however, that could put them or their family’s health at risk.” Now you have COVID, so … I’m sure many survivors are thinking well, if I leave the violence I am experiencing at home, am I gonna expose my family’s health?” Harmony said.

But they’re doing all that they can to ensure nobody will be healthy and protected against coronavirus.

“We’ve taken extra precautions here at our shelter. The safety of our families is first,” Harmony said. “We clean the facility more than we ever have.”

The organizers and staff at the shelter want to make sure they are helping break the cycle while also keeping everyone safe.

“They care about the safety of victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, and they have really stepped up to help us make this shelter possible,” Oberhaus said. “Talking about breaking the next generational cycle of abuse for these children who are able to sort of escape that violent home and learn what a healthy relationship is.”

Reporter:Andrea Guerrero
Writer:Drew Hill
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