Editor’s note: The woman interviewed for this story is a domestic-violence victim and did not want her real name used or photo taken because of threats by her ex-husband to her life and to take their child away. We are calling her “Sue.”
When Sue heard last month that Safe Havens, the Kent-based domestic-violence visitation and exchange center she has used for three years, would stay open, she had one reaction.
“I just bawled,” Sue said over the phone June 21. “I was so relieved. I felt like an inmate with a death sentence given life again. We are talking about life and death here.”
Sue said Safe Havens is the only facility where she feels safe enough to drop off her 5-year-old daughter for a court-ordered, one-hour visit once a week with her father.
Facility employees supervise the visits and arrange the arrival and departure times of the parents so that they never see each other.
“They put in place safety that you would not have otherwise,” Sue said.
Safe Havens, located across from Kent City Hall, had an open house June 22 to acknowledge and thank the community for financial contributions last month that kept the facility from closing.
Kent city officials opted last month to keep the facility open for the rest of the year after more than $50,000 was raised in two weeks from private donations to help fill a funding gap of about $100,000.
The Friends of Safe Havens have started to work on a long-term solution to keep the facility open, such as a new operator to replace the city of Kent. The city no longer has the funds or support of federal, state and King County grants to keep the facility going beyond 2010.
Safe Havens opened in 2005 as one of four federally funded demonstration sites across the nation. But federal, state and King County budget reductions left a $130,000 gap in the program’s 2010 budget. The city of Kent funds $100,000 of the annual operating budget of about $340,000.
In 2009, Safe Havens received $125,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, $100,000 from the city of Kent, $63,000 from the state and $52,000 from King County.
For 2010, the state dropped all funding, the county cut $42,000 and the federal government reduced funding by $25,000. The city of Kent’s contribution remains at $100,000.
But some of the funding was replaced by individuals and groups such as the Seattle-based Lucky Seven Foundation, which pledged to match up to $17,000 in donations. The foundation gives to nonprofit groups in the areas of health and welfare, education, arts, and the environment, according to its Web site.
The city of Seattle gave $30,000 in grant money last month to the city of Kent to help pay personnel costs at Safe Havens.
The donations were great news for Sue, the mother who drives each week from her home outside of Kent to use the facility.
Sue initially used another visitation center where she did not feel safe. She was going to have to return to that site if Safe Havens closed.
“Safe Havens is the only domestic violence center in the area where they really understand what safety issues need to be in effect so the woman and kids are safe,” Sue said.
Sue, who was married for 2 1/2 years, said the abuse by her husband escalated after the birth of their daughter.
“My daughter was a year old before I got him out of the house,” Sue said. “I tried to get him out (sooner), but he pulled a gun on us.”
Despite the abuse, Sue said it was difficult to leave because of the threats by her husband.
“He told me ‘If I can’t have you, nobody can have you,’” Sue said. “The threats are real. It took me six months to make sure I was safe enough to get him out of the house. The day he left home I got a protection order. We’re still here.”
The divorce took 18 months of court arguments between her and her husband and their attorneys before it became final, Sue said. She still has a protection order against her former husband because of continued threats.
“The biggest threat is his intention to take her (their daughter) and disappear with her,” Sue said. “There has been worse threats, but that’s the one that keeps coming back.”
With Safe Havens, Sue at least feels secure when she drops off her daughter so her father can see her.
“It took me six months of sitting in the waiting room crying before I thought she was in a safe place,” Sue said. “They really, really get it. We’ve been here three years at Safe Havens and it is far beyond the other places.”
For information about Safe Havens services, call 253-856-5140.
For information about the fundraising efforts for Safe Havens, go to www.kccadv.org/Events/Save_Safe_Havens.htm.