HAVEN seeking return

Sep. 15, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

Instead of folding in the face of large, unexpected financial shortfalls announced last month, supporters of HAVEN of Lee County are working to bring the nonprofit back to life.

Starting that off was the announcement of Susan King’s appointment as interim executive director at a meeting Wednesday which King said was attended by 18 local civic, government and business leaders.

King, who was the group’s executive director from 1998-2004, said the group has now brought back almost all of its services, including walk-in help as well as the courtroom advocacy and other legal aid it had offered in the past. The group’s shelter, however, will remain closed until the group can raise more much-needed funding.

HAVEN, which stands for Helping Abuse and Violence End Now, is Lee County’s only group dedicated wholly to helping victims of domestic violence. But in mid-August, thanks to what board of directors Chairwoman Carol Carlson called a “perfect storm” of financial and managerial problems, Carlson and the rest of the board were forced to lay off the group’s entire paid staff, close the shelter and terminate most of the services they operated at a state-of-the complex on the corner of Bracken Street and Horner Boulevard.

In an interview following that announcement, Carlson broke down in tears at least twice when talking about the group’s future. She also brought up King specifically as an example of the type of leadership HAVEN was missing.

“In my opinion, the last truly qualified ED (executive director) we had was Susan King,” Carlson told The Herald at the time.

About three weeks later, on Friday, Carlson said she was excited that King had agreed to come back — in the interim at least — to help the group regain its footing. King said it was an easy decision.

“HAVEN’s in my blood, and I want to help,” King said.

One of the primary reasons HAVEN reportedly had to shut down was that money from several grants stopped coming in because mandatory follow-up paperwork had gotten lost in the shuffle of recent leadership turnover. The group has been fundraising around town since then, and King said Thursday they have also won two new grants: one from the N.C. Governor’s Crime Commission and another from the Council for Women.

But until more funding comes in, she said, the 29-bed shelter will have to remain closed. The group said in a press release sent out Thursday that volunteers are trying to raise $30,000 in the next week.

That shelter was, some have argued, the group’s most important function. When it shut down a month ago, for example, leaders contacted multiple shelters in the central region of the state but still couldn’t find enough beds for all the people who weren’t able to go stay with friends or family.

One of the women left behind, a 54-year-old who The Herald will only identify by her first initial, M, because her abuser doesn’t know where she went when she left him, has said she was forever grateful to HAVEN even despite the sudden closure.

“July 5, I stepped into HAVEN – best place I ever come,” she said in August after the shelter closed, noting she was working two jobs and had more access to food, clothing and medical care in her few weeks at the shelter than she had when living with her longtime boyfriend, whom she said beat and chased her in addition to siccing a dog on her.

“I was a wreck,” M said. “Now, I work. … (HAVEN) helped me realize I can be independent, stand on my own two feet. They’re awesome. They’re awesome. That’s all I can say.”

M, who said she came here from out of state and doesn’t have any family or close friends in the area she could turn to, said she tried to escape her situation several times after hearing about HAVEN. But she lived out in the county and didn’t have access to a vehicle, she said, and her boyfriend always caught her trying to run and punished her for it.

But one day, she made it.

“I called (HAVEN) and said I was coming down the street by the Salvation Army, on foot, beat,” M said. “They came out and met me. ... Open arms. I never met anyone like that in my life. I didn’t know it was possible.”

M also said that now, when HAVEN needs the help of Lee County residents and groups, people should remember that Lee County also needs HAVEN.

“Every town they’ve called to try and place us, they’re full,” M said of the lack of beds for her and the handful of others who were left behind in the shelter. “That tells you domestic violence is a serious problem. There are women being beat every day.”