Haven House has come a long way, but there is still more to be done.
That’s according to the nonprofit organization’s board president, Roberta Radosevich; Beverly Darrow, who has dedicated herself to Haven House for over decade; and Executive Director Cosmina Hays.
The women’s shelter expanded more than a year ago, increasing its capacity. It took about $1.5 million, but the contractor went out of business and didn’t complete the warranty work — and there are still lingering problems — but in 2011, Haven House finally got most of the work completed.
The shelter went from enough beds for 20 women and children to room for 32. The facility also grew from about 5,000 square feet to 9,000 square feet, the kitchen was renovated, an outdoor patio was built, and there’s a computer room for clients as well as lockers for clients’ valuables to be stored when they check in.
There is also a larger living room area, including a half-dozen red leather couches and a small television.
And the new kitchen, couches, and beds were put to work over the winter holidays in 2012, Hays said.
“At Christmas we were 100 percent full,” she said.
That was something of an unusual situation, though. According to Hays, the need for shelter from domestic violence situations is not seasonal. The shelter sees an ebb and flow of women coming in and leaving throughout the year, she said.
While the additional capacity is not put to constant use, Darrow said one of the things she likes most about the expansion is that she rarely has to turn women away.
The majority of the clients need advice or services, but most don’t need shelter, she said. Or they don’t need shelter for very long, anyway. But the women who come to stay at Haven House for a month or more are always in a desperate situation, she said, and can’t even afford a hotel.
“Most of the ladies who come here have nothing,” she said.
Darrow has to take down the details of these women’s lives, she said. She has to get the full story to file a report and receive grant funding for the shelter to operate.
“It’s always really sad,” she said.
That, too, is a process that has noticeably improved with the recent addition. The shelter now has an area for women to tell their stories in relative privacy. The room even features a window into a play area, so the women can keep their children from hearing all the details of their relationships and still keep an eye on their kids, Darrow said.
It used to be that the details of these women’s lives had to be told within earshot of not only their own children, but all or most of the Haven House employees, delivery people or just about anybody who happened to be around.
And, Hays said, the 15 employees used to share a roughly 15 by 20 foot office and just had to try to keep out of each other’s way.
“It was really hard to work together and with clients (in that small space),” Hays said.
Radosevich said just adding a few offices was an incredible improvement.
“It was chaos,” she said. “We still have chaos, but its controlled chaos now.”
They said they are also incredibly grateful to the county because, after the original contractor packed up and left without completing the job, it was county employees who came in and brought the job nearly to completion, Darrow said. They did a great job, she said.
Despite vast improvement, there are still issues, as Radosevich and Darrow explained at the Sandoval County Commission meeting March 9.
For example, the design for placing the dishwasher was flawed, so it regularly overflows onto the kitchen floor. And the dirt in the area behind the building is eroding away, which creates a gap under the fence where someone might crawl into the shelter. A retaining wall is required there, Hays said.
And they need a few other small items, like smoke detectors and a secure door for the staff office.
“All our requests are safety issues,” Radosevich said.
And they are concerned because, due to requirements in the state’s anti-donation clause, some of the money they’d like to use to improve the building is being handled by Sandoval County.
From the start of the project in 2006, Haven House has seen a new set of county commissioners and three county managers. Internally, the shelter has changed its members on its board of directors and different employees from when the project began, which also complicates things, Radosevich said.
“There have definitely been challenges,” she said.
If the money isn’t used up, about $40,000 is set to expire this year.
That’s not the end of the list of concerns, either. Along with the expansion, Haven House is experiencing growing pains. Having more clients means a greater need for food and supplies, an increase in bills and more complications in general. For example, the shelter has two vans, but can only afford one part-time driver, Radosevich said.
For more information on Haven House, or to volunteer, request a workshop or seminar on domestic violence subjects, make a donation or seek help, visit havenhouseinc.org. The shelter’s 24-hour victim help line is 1-800-526-7157.