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Connie Schmoll, Safe Avenues executive director, addresses members of the Willmar City Council during a meeting Monday in Willmar. A proclamation, signed by Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Reese, urges all citizens "to actively participate in the scheduled activities and programs to work toward the elimination of personal and institutional violence against women" as the city observes Domestic Violence Awareness Month. "Safe Avenues is the umbrella name for Shelter House, which works with victims of domestic viole...

Willmar to observe domestic violence awareness initiatives throughout remainder of this month

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WILLMAR -- The month of October has been proclaimed Domestic Violence Awareness Month "in recognition of the important work'' done by Safe Avenues in Willmar, formerly known as Shelter House, and by domestic violence programs throughout the nation.

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The proclamation, signed by Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Reese, urges all citizens "to actively participate in the scheduled activities and programs to work toward the elimination of personal and institutional violence against women.''

The proclamation was read by Reese in the absence of Mayor Les Heitke during the Willmar City Council meeting Monday night.

Connie Schmoll, Safe Avenues executive director, said Shelter House in Willmar continues as the only emergency shelter serving battered women and their children in the 18-county southwestern Minnesota region. She said the new Safe Avenues name provides an opportunity for the organization to market its services and inform the community about its wide variety of programs.

"Safe Avenues is the new umbrella name for Shelter House,'' said Schmoll. "There are many avenues a person can take to find safety in their lives.''

Schmoll said the program works with 600 to 700 families who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. She said 51 percent of the people who stay at Shelter House, or about 100 families a year, are from Kandiyohi County. The average stay is 18 days. Some stay for three to four months and many stay for only a night or two.

Schmoll said many cities in the region wish they had their own shelter. If they did, families wouldn't have to leave their homes, jobs or schools. Some victims choose not to leave that in order to find safe shelter, she said.

"I think that's one of the reasons that we are 51 percent from Kandiyohi County,'' she said. "It's more accessible for people in our community to go to safe shelter.''

Schmoll said the period during which an individual obtains a court order for protection is a dangerous time. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women says that many domestic abuse victims have been murdered during the time when they were leaving the abusive partner.

"When somebody gets a court order and makes a move to change what's going on, we ask them to stay at the shelter for a day or two until the most dangerous period is over,'' said Schmoll.

Follow-ups with clients may be difficult because many are hiding or moving around. They sometimes return to the abusive situation in hopes of changing the situation, but it doesn't work most of the time.

Many who are successful -- whether their abusive partner receives help or they separate from the abusive person to be safe -- give back to the community and the program and tell others there is help out there, according to Schmoll. Funding comes from a variety of state, federal and local sources.

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David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150
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