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25 Jan 2016

Aiding the Abused: Shelter From the Storm Wages a Lonely Battle to Protect Local Victims of Domestic Violence

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Shelter From the Storm's Angelina Coe: "The fear factor involved in leaving the cycle of domestic violence, and leaving safely, has an impact on people coming into shelter." Shelter From the Storm's Angelina Coe: "The fear factor involved in leaving the cycle of domestic violence, and leaving safely, has an impact on people coming into shelter." Kevin Fitzgerald

In the United States, 20 people are physically abused by intimate partners every minute of every day on average, according to a 2015 National Coalition Against Domestic Violence report. That equates to more than 10 million victims annually.

While there was a steady decline in the number of incidents reported in California from 2005 to 2012, the last two years for which statistics are available have seen increases, according to the California Department of Justice. In 2014, the nine cities of the Coachella Valley recorded 1,317 domestic-violence incidents; more than 20 percent involved the use of a weapon. On average, that works out to just less than four reported incidents per day in our valley—where Shelter From the Storm (SFTS) provides one of the only sources of hope to frightened and often desperate victims and their families.

“There’s a high need, and we’re still the only provider out here,” said executive director Angelina Coe during an interview in her office, located in a strip mall surrounded by a commercial area of Palm Desert. “The demand is there, but it’s a question of getting people to come in for help. It’s about the stigma of being in a shelter, which is still very negative. The fear factor involved in leaving the cycle of domestic violence, and leaving safely, has an impact on people coming into shelter.”

Coe has worked in the nonprofit, family-services, domestic-violence and homelessness-services sectors for almost 20 years, and came to SFTS in October 2012.

“These are not the easiest type of shelters to run, because you have to consider safety and security,” Coe asserted. “You have women with their children who are in serious need, and their resources are limited, because most of them do not have an income and won’t be able to establish an income in a 60-day time span (which is the normal period permitted for transitional housing assistance). They don’t have any skill sets, because they were young when they got married or got into the abusive relationship. They don’t have any family support system, because there’s a lot of fear and intimidation.

“You have to deal with their medical issues that result from being physically abused, and there are mental-health issues that come from being verbally and psychologically abused for years, and the trauma that happens to the children. It’s not that victims are choosing to stay because they don’t want to leave; it’s just harder to leave because their life is at risk: ‘I’ll kill you if you ever tell the police,’ or, ‘If you leave me, you won’t make it another night,’ or, ‘I’ll take the children away from you,’ or, ‘No one will believe you,’ or, ‘I’ll have you deported,’ which has become a big threat with many of our undocumented victims.

“There are often drugs and alcohol involved—not just on the abuser’s part, but the victims are forced into usage as a means for them to be kept under control. Also, the victims worry about the uncertainty: ‘What happens after I go to the shelter?’ ‘How am I going to live?’ ‘How am I going to provide for my family?’ ‘How am I going to provide for myself?’ ‘At least he (or the abuser) gives us a home. It’s not safe … but it’s a home.’ The victims kind of learn to live around the abuse: ‘OK, don’t do this so he won’t get angry, or if he is angry, do this so that he’ll de-escalate.’ ‘Wear certain things to avoid the injuries being more serious.’ The children become buffers sometimes.”

As if trying to protect and resuscitate the lives of victims isn’t hard enough work, SFTS is being forced to do more with less: Last year, SFTS saw a major portion of its funding abruptly cancelled.

“We lost our critical $150,000 in funding from (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) this past August, because their priorities changed, and they were no longer funding transitional housing programs. Instead, their focus was more on permanent housing solutions for homeless people in our society,” Coe said. “That was a devastating cut for us, but we were able to reach out to the community, and we received donations of about $40,000 which helped us to get through to the end of last year.”

The shortfall did lead to a cut in services in 2016, however.

“Our transitional, longer-term housing program, where victims and their families could be housed by SFTS for up to two years, was discontinued as of Dec. 31,” Coe said. “Fortunately, the families we did have in that program at the time were able to move onto permanent housing, so they are stable and moving forward, and remain connected with us for community counseling and outreach services if they need.”

Thankfully, some additional funding is arriving this year.

“We got an increase in our California (Governor’s) Office of Emergency Services funding, and that’s helping to supplement a lot of the overhead expenditures at our shelter, although we have downsized some,” Coe said. “But our main priority is to continue to provide quality care for the women and children and deal with their healing process which we’re doing through our hotline, our crisis shelter and our community counseling and community outreach. All those core services are still going and flourishing and fully funded for the majority of the year ahead.”

What is the status on the housing front? “We do still have our emergency shelter where victims and their families can stay for up to 60 days, and if we have a family that’s in need of longer-term housing, we can work with that family on a temporary transitional basis at that shelter as well. Then we work with other out-of-town facilities that … have longer term housing.”

The 22-person full-time SFTS staff has its hands full. So what can community members do to help?

“We very much appreciate monetary donations,” Coe said. “… And there are also donations of goods that we are always in need of and appreciate receiving.”

For more information or to donate, call 760-674-0400; visit www.shelterfromthestorm.com; or send mail to 73550 Alessandro Drive, Suite 103, Palm Desert, CA 92260.

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