The Sexual Assault/Spouse Abuse Resource Center's longtime dream of establishing a shelter for battered women and their children appears to be moving closer to reality.
The Bel Air-based center, which has offered counseling, legal advocacy and other assistance to abused women in Harford County for more than 14 years, is considering leasing a Bel Air site from the county for a small fee.
There is now no county-based shelter for abused women. SARC generally shelters women in crisis by putting them up in local motels or placing them in shelters in other counties.
SARC executive director Donna DeBussy said the center's board of directors would continue to investigate the cost of renovating the proposed structure and removing lead-based paint before deciding whether to accept the county's offer.
County and SARC administrators refused to disclose the exact location of the site, saying negotiations made the site tentative. But Ms. DeBussy said it is within the Bel Air town limits.
If the board decides to go ahead with the site, an eight-bed shelter serving women and children in Harford County, it could open within a year, she said.
"Generally, the county makes it a policy that if there is a surplus property available, it can be leased for $1 a year to a nonprofit organization that is providing a needed service," said Cheryl Worthington, director of Harford County community services. "SARC has shown a viable need for such a property."
"How soon we could open depends on how much work has to be done and how much it will cost," said Ms. DeBussy, who added that the board has received one "very general" estimate of $50,000 for structural changes. "That's a considerable amount of money, so we have to weigh all the factors."
SARC has received two grants in the past seven months earmarked for the shelter's operating expenses. One is for $5,000 from Action for the Homeless, a nonprofit advocacy organization that directs private contributions to services for the homeless. A second $10,000 donation came from an anonymous county-based private foundation.
Ms. DeBussy said if SARC decides to go ahead with the site, the board will begin to seek additional operating money, which could
take several months."
A Harford County shelter for battered-women is long overdue, Ms. DeBussy said. Of the 20 domestic violence centers operating in the state, Harford's SARC is one of seven without a shelter.
"Our numbers have changed dramatically in the last few years," Ms. DeBussy said.
In the fiscal year ending June 1991, records indicate SARC helped 189 women and children find some form of shelter from abuse -- usually in local motels, out-of-town shelters or private homes.
By the third quarter of fiscal 1992, she said, the number of people served had already reached 162.
"The last two months have been very heavy," she said, pointing out that a bad economy seems to heighten the severity of violence in the home.
Current alternatives to a shelter aren't effective enough, said Ms. DeBussy, because people need to stay away from an abusive spouse more than the usual one- to three-day stay in a motel. And using out-of-town shelters means taking children out of school and abandoning any support network a woman might have near her home.
In the proposed shelter, the ideal stay would be six weeks, Ms. DeBussy said. Women would be charged a fee based on what they could afford, but no one would be turned away.
SARC established a committee two years ago to begin its search for a suitable site. SARC operated a temporary shelter, Phoenix House, in Havre de Grace, more than four years ago for a six-month period, Ms. DeBussy said.
Besides telephone counseling, SARC also offers in-person counseling, legal advocacy, hospital visits and group counseling.