Providing safety for battered women Director wants more shelters

November 04, 1992|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

As a small child, Stephanie Sites lived in a home where her father abused her mother.

As the new executive director of the Domestic Violence Center of Howard County, she's working to help make sure that other children won't have to grow up with similar memories.

"I grew up in a home where there was battering and I don't want other children to have to grow up that way," said Ms. Sites, 30, who was named last week to the top position at the Domestic Violence Center by its board of directors.

"I really believe people who have grown up in that situation need to take a leadership role in domestic violence," Ms. Sites said. "They need to speak out and say, 'Yes, this has happened to me,' or 'Yes, I grew up like this.' "

For Ms. Sites, the turning point came when she was 6 and her father tried to kill her and her younger sister. When the violence touched her children, Ms. Sites' mother took her two daughters and left.

"It was typical battering relationship," Ms. Sites said of her parents.

Ms. Sites came to the center in 1989 as director of residential services. She devoted most of her efforts to the opening of additional shelters for battered women and their children.

Since July, she's served as the center's acting executive director, supervising a staff of 10 and overseeing the daily operations of the agency. The center services include counseling for battered women and their abusers, community education and volunteer programs and four shelters for battered women.

As an administrator Ms. Sites says she hopes to bring a new sense of energy to the center.

"I live and breathe domestic violence," she said. "You don't get away from it."

In fiscal 1992, the center's hot line received more than 3,000 calls and served 506 victims. Three months into the the new year, the center has already served 50 percent of its projected total of clients for the year and has had to turn away 122 people for lack of shelter space.

In her first year as director, Ms. Sites expects to devote most of her time to overseeing the opening of the center's fifth shelter.

Last month the center received a $186,000 federal grant to open a another transitional housing shelter for its clients. Most of the center's funding is made up of county and state money.

In contrast to emergency housing, transitional housing offers long-term stays to battered women who are trying to rebuild their lives and become independent. Residents of transitional housing usually have jobs or attend school.

The center was one of 103 agencies nationwide to receive such a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD specifically earmarked the grant money for transitional housing projects.

Ms. Sites said the shelter will fill a gap in the center's housing services for displaced battered women by providing a step between emergency housing and the existing transitional shelters.

"This gives us a two-year residential program," Ms. Sites said. "If you can have that kind of time with somebody, it can really make a difference."

The center's seven-bed safe house is designed for women who have just left abusive situations and offers a three-month stay and counseling is available 24 hours a day. Depending on their needs, women who leave the safe house may stay an additional 18 months at the center's three transitional shelters, which provide intermittent counseling.

In the new shelter, which will increase the number of transitional housing beds from 19 to 27, women will be able to stay for five months and take advantage of the daily counseling services.

In some cases, the move from the safe house to the transitional shelter was too much of a change for some women to handle, Ms. Sites said.

The HUD money will be available in January or February and the center plans to rent a town house or a single family home for the shelter.

Before coming to the Domestic Violence Center, Ms. Sites, who has a degree in psychology from Western Maryland College, was a child care worker with the Board of Child Care in Baltimore. The agency is associated with the Methodist church and runs residential facilities for troubled adolescents.

"Even working with abused and neglected kids you're still working with domestic violence," Ms. Sites said. "Ninety percent of the kids come from homes where mom was being abused, too."

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