Haven House works to make community safer place for all

Before we turn a page on the calendar, let’s take a moment to remember October as Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Awareness Month — a month “devoted to honoring those we’ve lost and those who’ve survived,” said Jessica Lawmaster, executive director of South Peninsula Haven House. She and other Haven House staff spoke this week at several “lunch and learn” meetings informing people about Haven House programs.

As anyone who reads the Cops and Courts section of the Homer News knows, hardly a week goes by without a report of domestic assault. While man-on-woman partner violence is most common, there also are reports of woman-on-man violence and same-sex assault. An incident at an East End Road teen-age drinking party last year shattered some stereotypical images of sexual assault.

The good news is that for more than 30 years, Homer hasn’t tried to hide from its problems of domestic violence and sexual assault. Starting with a group of women who created a network of safe homes for victims, that pioneer organization, South Peninsula Women’s Services, has grown into South Peninsula Haven House. Lawmaster said the heart and soul of Haven House’s work remains the shelter, now a 10-bed facility for women and children.

Haven House changed its name to reflect that while its shelter serves mainly women, the program finds refuge for anyone from domestic violence and sexual assault. Advocates provide counseling and support for women, children and men. They even hold 36-week long domestic violence intervention programs for men and women ordered by the court and the Office of Children’s Services, with the goal of holding batterers accountable and breaking the cycle of violence.

Haven House’s other programs include:

• Weekly support groups for victims;

• A confidential, 24-hour crisis line staffed by Haven House advocates to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault;

• A legal advocacy program and legal hotline to help people file restraining orders or get advice from attorneys on divorce, dissolution of marriage and child support issues;

• Advocates to accompany children and adults in court as a case moves through the system;

• The Sexual Assault Response Team made up of advocates, cops and troopers, and nurses trained to do health and forensic exams;

• The Child Advocacy Center, a safe, nonthreatening facility at Haven House where child victims of abuse can be interviewed by trained professionals and counselors using protocols that are culturally and age appropriate while avoiding leading questions;

• Job and life counseling to help domestic violence victims start careers so they can live independently of their abusers;   

• Housing placement and financial assistance for rent and security deposits or home repairs that might bankrupt a homeowner;

• A partnership with the Homer Prevention Project to address underage and adult binge drinking;

• The Photo Voice Project, where teenagers use photography to explore topics like why teens drink; 

• Homer Thrift, a donation-supported used clothing and household goods store that employs shelter residents, teaching them job skills, and provides low-cost items to the community;

• Girls on the Run, a program to inspire young girls through physical activity; and

• Green Dot, a program to give the community skills in turning “red dots” — incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault — into “green dots,” where violence is averted.

Many of these programs Haven House runs with financial and material support from other good organizations. Through Gov. Sean Parnell’s Choose Respect campaign, Alaskans have focused attention on domestic violence and sexual assault. That’s a campaign Homer can be proud of working on long ago. 

Through programs that Haven House and other groups have started, we may not see the end of domestic violence and sexual assault completely, but our community can make a concerted effort to say “Not in our town,” and make the problems a historic anachronism like the bubonic plague and smallpox.