Bel Air emergency shelter dedicated Facility is Harford's 1st for domestic violence

September 10, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF jTC Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

Complete with bulletproof glass and video security system, Harford County's first shelter for victims of domestic violence and rape was dedicated yesterday in Bel Air.

The facility, which officials expect will serve more than 300 adults and children in the first year of operation, will meet a demand for such a shelter in one of Maryland's fastest growing areas.

The formal opening is several weeks away, officials said.

"This has been a long time coming," said Stephanie K. Sites, executive director of the Sexual Assault and Spouse Abuse Resource Center (SARC), a nonprofit Harford County group. "We've been working toward this day for 10 years. The need is here."

The building housing the center was county property donated at the initiative of County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann. Members of the Harford County legislative delegation got state approval for $1 million worth of renovations.

"This is an example of how government can help in times when people need support and have nowhere to turn," Rehrmann said.

The facility -- called a safe house by officials -- will operate around the clock and will have a professional staff of five. It will have 28 beds and cribs and handicapped-accessible facilities, including bathrooms and laundries.

Sites said emergency shelter will be available to families for up to 90 days. Legal advocacy and counseling services also will be available.

Meanwhile, the resource center and the Harford County Sheriff's Office are creating a Domestic Violence Crisis Intervention Team. Starting next month, two deputies and a representative from SARC will be assigned to conduct follow-up investigations on domestic violence calls. The team is being established with a $125,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, said Lisa Kunitz, a legal advocate from the resource center.

"We can do a follow-up on every 911 call that comes to the sheriff's department," Kunitz said. "We've never had the resources to do that kind of individual outreach."

The resource center handled 5,892 calls for assistance in fiscal 1995, which ended in June, officials said. Of that number, more than 1,400 people were counseled, and 185 women and children were sheltered.

"Because of financial restraints, those shelter periods lasted three or four nights at the most," Sites said. "And they were in hotels in Aberdeen and Edgewood -- not the best way to care for those people."

She added that calls for assistance come from throughout the county, including from military dependents at Aberdeen Proving Ground. She said that 95 percent of the calls are from women.

Sites credited Maj. Jessie Bane of the county Sheriff's Office with assisting the project, along with public officials such as Rehrmann and state Sen. William H. Amoss, a Democrat representing Harford and Cecil counties.

"It's not a cheap proposition to open a shelter," Bane said.

Bane said most police agree that domestic violence calls are among the most dangerous. And once the abuser is arrested, violence doesn't always stop. "That's why we put in the bulletproof glass and security apparatus," Bane said. "Batterers pursue their wives, girlfriends and children.

"It's been a long time coming, and we still have some work to do on the shelter," Bane said, "but we're happy that its time has finally arrived."

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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