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Cash-hit abuse shelter closes

Bermuda's only shelter for victims of domestic abuse has been forced to close due to a “critical” shortage of money.

The safe house is run by the Centre Against Abuse, which may also have to shut if it cannot secure essential funding.

The charity has been protecting and supporting victims since 1979 — but the team is unsure how long they can keep going.

The Centre's dedicated staff is still helping people from their office on Canal Road, Hamilton, and is appealing for the community and corporate donors to help them stay afloat.

“Funding has always been tight, but this is unprecedented,” said Laurie Shiell, the executive director. “We're in danger of closing.

“Domestic violence affects one in three in Bermuda. We support victims and offer them protection, provide them with strategies to cope, with day-to-day living.”

Many, if not most, of those assisted by the Centre cannot afford to pay for their services.

“Most clients usually find themselves in a position where they are unable to contribute,” said Lorna Dixon-Marable, the chairwoman of the Centre's board.

“How can we ask someone who is beaten and broken and needing safety for money?” Ms Shiell added. “Their safety comes first.”

Ms Dixon-Marable said the Centre was in a “critical economic mess” and that the pool of funding charities relied upon was getting smaller and smaller.

“Supporting victims and their children, running a safe-house that houses 24 bodies, these take funding,” she said.

“We've had to close the shelter down. Things are that critical, but we are still delivering services out of the office. We're hoping that some funding could come through sooner rather than later.”

The charity receives an annual Government grant, but this has been cut to $75,000 from $100,000 in previous years. The Centre's annual budget is $500,000. Last year, the charity helped more than 120 women and the safe house offered shelter to 31 women and children. Nearly 80 women have received assistance from the Centre so far this year.

“We're asking people from the goodness of their heart, anything they can give and spare will help,” Ms Dixon-Marable said.

“We're appealing to the community at large. Even just $50 a month goes a long way. Anything in kind would help — if someone could take care of our BELCO bill, take care of our rent.

“We're very grateful for the Government grant we receive and for what the Government has been able to do. But if we hope to keep our doors open we look forward to more assistance, if at all possible.”

The Centre is also considering smaller office space to reduce its rent bill, although it needs to stay in a central location so victims can get to them easily.

“We're going to have to look at alternatives that are cheaper,” Ms Dixon-Marable said. “But we can't move just anywhere.

“If anyone can give us this, or let us use a space for free on a temporary basis until they lease their space, it would be wonderful. We can pay a little something and something is better than nothing if it is empty.”

Ms Shiell said the Centre had been unable to dedicate as much time as it would have liked to fundraising because the small team had been focusing on the charity's application to be accredited by the Bermuda National Standards Committee.

The BNSC is a non-profit organisation that aims to improve standards and accountability in the charity sector.

Non-profits must lay out their policies, procedures and best practices during the demanding accreditation and certification process.

“Less than 20 organisations have accreditation,” Ms Shiell said. “It's such a process to go through but an excellent process. We recommend it for everyone. It assists you ensuring that your operation runs effectively.”

“It assists us with bettering what we do for the community,” Ms Dixon-Marable added.

Ms Shiell said domestic abuse was a major problem that is often unreported, especially by men who fear not being taken seriously.

She emphasised that abuse does not only refer to physical harm, but can also be verbal, emotional, mental and financial. About one in eight adults in Bermuda has experienced domestic violence in which a partner had physically hurt them, according to the Bermuda Health Council's Health Disparities Report for 2013.

The Centre's services are strictly confidential and people should not let their inability to pay for help stop them seeking help, Ms Shiell said.

As well as offering shelter and advice to victims, the Centre also runs a Batterers' Intervention programme, classes on anger management and counselling.

OBA Senator Alexis Swan, a long-term supporter of the Centre, vowed to support their fundraising efforts and pleaded with others to do the same.

“The Centre Against Abuse offers a vital service to the community because it provides a safe house and counselling along with other services for persons who find themselves in abuse situations,” she said. “Without services like this we are putting our community at risk for higher incidents of abuse. We need to pull together as a community to raise funds to keep this important organisation in operation.

“Domestic violence is something that has haunted Bermuda for many years. There are some that just make it out alive, there are some whose lives are completely turned upside down, and there are those who have not made it.

“It is critical as a community that we understand the seriousness of this issue we are faced with in Bermuda. As a small community, many fear discussing domestic violence. Organisations like the Centre Against Abuse help to build confidence in those who are faced with the ups and downs that one may be exposed to and experiencing.

“The Centre Against Abuse has committed 35 years of service to Bermuda and has had a positive impact on many lives in our community, and they continue to work aggressively in committing their resources and time 24/7.

“Their hard work has not gone unnoticed and is greatly appreciated. I have always been a strong supporter of their services and commitment, and I am also very passionate about this subject.

“I am also aware of the urgency of this matter and will continue to learn as much as I can to assist in the awareness that is strongly needed, and will support any fundraising efforts put on by the Centre Against Abuse to keep them in operation.

“Laurie Shiell and her team have dedicated not only their time to the safety of those going through traumatic situations such as domestic violence, but their hearts.

“I urge the community to work together in tackling this critical issue and to offer as much support as they possibly can.”

For more information about the Centre, visit www.centreagainstabuse.bm or visit their Facebook page.

If you can donate to the Centre or assist them in any way, please call Ms Shiell on 292-4366 or email info@centreagainstabuse.bm

Photo by Mark Tatem ¬ Laurie Shiell Director of the Centre Against Abuse holds up a sign reflecting the name change of the Physical Abuse Centre

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Published August 27, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated August 27, 2014 at 5:41 pm)

Cash-hit abuse shelter closes

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