A new domestic violence shelter is desperately needed in Marathon

Sheryl Schwab, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Shelter of Monroe County and the Florida Keys, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM to talk about what the shelter does. 

The Domestic Abuse Shelter is a certified center in the state of Florida. 

Schwab explained, “There are a total of 40 certified centers in the state of Florida and that’s a certification by the Department of Children, Families, the Department of Domestic Violence Services, and we do provide emergency shelter. We currently only have one shelter in the Lower Keys due to the loss of our shelter in the Middle Keys to Hurricane Irma. So we currently only have 15 beds. We lost 25 beds during that storm. We also have outreach services in both the Upper, Lower and Middle Keys. All of our services are provided for free. The first point of contact is our hotline, we have a 24 hour hotline, and that number is 305-743-4440. We provide safety planning. All calls that come in to the hotline, the first thing they do is assess for the individual’s safety, and then determine what their call is about today. If they need emergency shelter, they are asked a few questions to find out if they meet the criteria and that’s not heavy. Are you a victim of domestic violence? Yes? Okay, you’ve met the criteria, no police reports, nothing. They find out where they are and do they have a means to get there? We help them get there if they need to. We also take individuals from outside of Monroe County because of the sister center thing and the other sister centers also take individuals from our shelter if they want to relocate back to that area. One of the common things that we see in domestic violence is that removal from the support system and family, so maybe they’re living off in the middle of rural America someplace and the perpetrator might say let’s move to the Keys. Let’s go live in paradise and before you know it they have no family, no friends, no support system and then here they are. One in four, some some statistics say one in three, women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and one in seven men. We do accept men into shelter. They can bring their children into shelter. Maybe mom’s living in the home as a caregiver and she would not be safe if the survivor leaves the home. So mom comes in, everybody comes in that we need to make safe.”

All services are free due to grants the shelter receives. 

Schwab continued, “Safety planning, lethality assessment, court accompaniment, crisis management, support groups, individual counseling, risk assessment of the children, all of those services are available to individuals that come into the shelter and all of the same services are available through outreach as those services that are in the shelter, the individuals that are staying in our shelter.”

The shelter became a private, non-profit in 1983. 

Schwab said, “It was only during Hurricane Irma that we lost the the 25 bed shelter. Now we’re a 15 bed center. Just in the last fiscal year, had we had that other center, we’d have been able to provide approximately 7000 nights of safe sleep to survivors and their families. The fact that we cannot do that is a shame and the community needs to be aware of that. We ask the community’s help in rectifying that. Seven years is a long time to try to be raising money to rebuild the shelter, which in 2019 started out as a three and a half million dollar shelter and based on what we all see in the Keys, that is no longer the case, it will probably be about $5 million. What our plan is at the moment is to do it in phases.”

Phase one is about $3.5 million. 

Schwab said, “We need to raise another $2 million to get shovels in the ground and get the building through phase one to try and let people know that yes, we’re still serious about this. We’re going to do this. This is my job. My board was afraid after Irma, they’re like, oh my god, are you leaving? I’m like, I can’t. Where am I going to go? Now I really have work to do. Anounced just last week, thanks to the help from Representative Mooney and Senator Rodriguez and our wonderful lobbyist, Kate DeLoach, working together during this past session, $1 million, made it into the Florida State budget and it was not one of the many, many, many programs that was vetoed. So when that budget was signed the other day, I mean, there was like, dancing in my office. So now we will receive $1 million from the state of Florida to add to the half a million dollars that we already have, giving us that total of one and a half million dollars. I’m hoping to go out in July and really start banging the drum and see if we can’t get some match going on with that $1 million. We need to get people safe again in Monroe County. It’s really challenging if someone lived in Key Largo to get to our shelter, their ability and willingness to leave Key Largo maybe jobs, maybe kids in school, all that kind of stuff, we know how it works in the Keys to move 100 miles away in Key West to get safe shelter. That’s got to be fixed. When we were had the shelter in the Middle Keys, folks would come from the Upper Keys to be safe, but going down to the Lower Keys, it’s a real stretch for folks. We do other things in order to help them keep safe. We have outreach in all those areas. So they can still come in and get all the other services, maybe help with rent, utilities or whatever, based on availability, and grants that we may have at that time. But as a community, we need to come together and change things for the safety in Monroe County, because we’re not having it now. Trust me, domestic violence, lives and breathes in Monroe County. It continues with no decrease in the number of police reports for domestic violence, police calls, calls to the shelter, and it’s an underreported crime, so what we see is nowhere near what’s going on.”

A number of stressors can increase domestic violence. 

Schwab said, “It escalates. Domestic violence is intimidating and coercive behaviors about power and control. That exists without the additional stressors. So we don’t like to look at the fact that the stressors are what’s bringing this on, take away the stressors, and you still have a perpetrator of domestic violence. Trust me, I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I’ve been in work since 1998/97. As an intern, I’ve worked at three different centers, I started out at Women in Distress in Broward County, was there till 2012 when I went to Polk, Highlands and Hardee County, and then in 2017, when I came down to the Keys. I had thought by this point in time that we might be seeing a little something, but we’re not. We’re not. If anything, there’s more reports. We don’t really know if that’s due to an awareness and people reaching out and understanding that they need safety, or that we even exist. But things haven’t changed in 25 years.”

The fundraising is to build a shelter in Marathon, but in the meantime, there is outreach. 

Schwab said, “If they need shelter, and they’re willing to take shelter in Key West, that’s where they seek services. There is outreach in Marathon. Outreach is good. Not everybody needs emergency shelter. We’re able to provide the other services there. But imminent danger requires shelter and shelter requires a new facility back in Marathon. We’ve gone way too many years without.” 

For more information, click here:   https://domesticabuseshelter.org/