When victims of domestic violence in the Charlotte area find themselves in all too familiar moments of crisis, Karen Parker and the team at SAFE Alliance hope they know they can turn to them for help. But one of the biggest problems for those victims is finding a place to stay that’s secure. As real estate prices and apartment rents in the Charlotte area continue to climb, SAFE Alliance offers the only shelter for domestic violence victims in the Charlotte area.
“We focused on that because it was more becoming a bigger problem and there were several other groups in the community that were handling the housing issue. There is more awareness now about domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Parker, president and CEO.
Although the group has been around for over a century, domestic violence wasn’t always their focus.
“We’ve been around for over 100 years and really focused in meeting the needs of the community,” Parker said. “That’s how we came to our focus on domestic violence and awareness. We previously did adoption, general counseling and even credit counseling.”
What changed over time to have the group zero-in on this issue? Parker said today people are more open about the domestic violence. And that the group tries to focus on underserved groups like the LGBT community, when it comes to domestic violence response and awareness.
“We know that people need to feel safe coming to us or else they won’t get help. They wouldn’t come to us for service if they don’t feel they can reach out,” Parker said. “A lot of people think it is just about physical violence. But what we know is this violence is all about one person exercising control over another. It can be control of the finances. Control over the kids.”
The problem can be insidious and not always easily recognizable, she said.
“You might say ‘I don’t see these bruises that family is happy.’ But if one person is walking on eggshells and feels like there will be punishment if they don’t do what the other person says that’s domestic violence,” Parker explained. “We are like the emergency room for the domestic violence. We are on the hotline calls and we meet people at the hospital when they need help. We are there right from when the crisis happens and guide them through healing. The crisis nature and the comprehensiveness is what sets us apart and what we are known for.”
Parker said that affordable housing – or lack thereof – in the Queen City also plays a part in the domestic violence crisis.
“Affordable housing is a big issue for us,” she said. “In our shelter we bring people in and they are in imminent danger – it houses 120 people a night. And we have a full shelter pretty much every night. And people are calling us. We have people who are ready to leave the shelter but there is no housing for them to go to. The biggest issue for us is identifying affordable housing. We are doing a pilot program for housing through our organization. If I had a magic wand I would wave it for housing.”
As to when clients are ready to depart the shelter, that’s up to them, Parker said.
“People come to us by choice and we try to keep the stay in the shelter to 90 days. For some people that is a good schedule but for others that time frame is not feasible. We also do protective orders in the court. Those are usually temporary but they can get it extended up to 1 year,” she said.
This year, SAFE Alliance is working with the Mecklenburg Times as part of the paper’s 50 Most Influential Women awards.
“It is wonderful to have the group of female leaders all in one place and we are happy to get to speak and meet with them,” Parker said. “Often the first person a victim will reach out to is a friend or family member. If those people know about us and know what is the right thing to say it can go along way.”
Parker said the group is also working hard on a new crisis hotline this year.
“We have operated a hotline for many years but we have recently made a big change,” she said. “It used to roll over to who ever was able to pick up the phone. But we knew that a lot of people calling needed more time on the line – 30 minutes or more. The other thing we were seeing in a lot of homes with DV there is also child abuse or the potential for it. We teamed up with DSS and received funding from Duke to set up the Hope Line. It is also a parenting support line and now focused on the whole family with a dedicated staff focused on that. We did a soft launch in December and we did our public launch in January. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for 15 or more years. We are so grateful we were able to get that funding to do it and I think it will help a lot of people.”