For more than 30 years the Catholic Charities Domestic Violence Shelter in Omaha, Neb. has helped countless victims of domestic violence rebuild their lives by offering compassion, comfort, and care through a variety of specialized services and partnerships designed to help those in crisis make a fresh start.
Statistics report that nationally one in four women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime and that an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of a physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Thousands of those cases affect Omaha. The Domestic Violence Coordinating Council reports that in 2008 the number of domestic violence calls made in Douglas County topped 23,000 with nearly 5,000 women and children seeking support services though local shelters. The need to address those numbers is paramount.
“The Domestic Violence Shelter came to be because the community recognized a need to serve victims of domestic violence and realized that women needed a safe place,” Frances Hauptman, Catholic Charities Director of Domestic Violence Services said.
To help ensure safety is provided, the Domestic Violence Shelter has adopted the philosophy of keeping the location of the shelter anonymous, a philosophy not followed by all domestic violence shelters. Around the clock locked doors and a curfew for those staying at the shelter provide another layer of safety.
“Providing a safe place for those in crisis is our primary responsibility; that’s what we do best and that comes first. From that point, once the woman feels safe and can began to feel comfortable we ask her to identify three things that she would like to work on whether it be getting a place of her own, finding a new job, or just dealing with her feelings. The work that we do from then is determined by what she tells us she needs and that becomes our focus,” Hauptman said.
Hauptman, a licensed mental health practitioner and licensed clinical social worker who has worked with the Domestic Violence Shelter for the past 14 years says that in the last 15 years great strides have been made in regard to building awareness and support of domestic violence in the community and within the judicial system and law enforcement.
That support has helped the Domestic Violence Shelter serve nearly 430 women and children last year alone. Women who find themselves in domestic violence situation can contact the Shelter 24 hours, seven days a week for information about Shelter services. After the initial call, the woman can decide whether or not she wants to come in and stay at the Shelter, and if not, other arrangements and resources are offered.
“Sometimes woman are not ready to leave, and that’s OK. When that is the case, what we do is build what we call a Safety Plan with her so she can do things that will keep her potentially a little bit safer so she can start thinking about her next steps when she’s ready to leave,” Hauptman said.
Women who come to the Shelter have their own bedrooms and share the kitchen, dining room, and bathroom areas. In addition to an outside play area for kids, the house has several shared recreational spaces including a fitness room for adults and a learning center and Wii game room for families where they can enjoy quiet time or spend time together reconnecting as a family. Meals are coordinated by Shelter staff and prepared on a rotating basis by everyone staying at the house. Most importantly, during their stay at the Shelter, women and children are able to participate in group and one-on-one sessions designed to help them move forward.
During the customized six-week program, women are encouraged to journal and are invited to participate in group therapy sessions led by Shelter staff trained in offering domestic violence support services. Sessions focus on a variety of topics from exploring feelings and emotions to learning about basic nutrition and self care. Women can also participate in one-on-one consultation sessions with staff to help them find housing, search for a job, and plan for the future both emotionally and financially as well as participate in parenting classes focused on how abuse impacts families and how to over come these challenges.
One of the group sessions called Hidden Talents, a recreational therapy group focusing on arts and crafts, has been especially successful. “Although women are hesitant at first saying they aren’t “crafty” or creative, we found that clients really enjoy this group. They like making things, putting colors together, using paints, and glitter. What we learned was that many times women get a different kind of support from a group like Hidden Talents that they aren’t getting elsewhere,” Hauptman said. “The group touches something within themselves that had gone dormant or that they didn’t know they had in the first place.”
The Shelter offers additional outside resources as well. Community partnerships with organizations like the Henry Doorly Zoo, Children’s Museum, Visiting Nurses Association, and the Nebraska Humane Society make it possible for families to enjoy activities in the community, have any medical questions they might have answered, and have a safe haven for the family pet provided while staying in the Shelter.
“We know that for many women their most important confidant is their pet and it’s a great comfort to them to know that the Nebraska Humane Society will keep their animals while they are with us so there is safety for their pet as well,” Hauptman said. “We have these resources because the community is working with us to meet the needs of victims of domestic violence and we couldn’t do what we do without the support of the community.”
The resources and support offered by the Domestic Violence Shelter does not stop once the women leave. After the six week program is over, Shelter After-Care Specialist will meet with the client in their home or another place of safety for six months to offer on-going support and on-going referrals to help the client re-integrate back into the community. Assistance through Catholic Charities and Community Alliance help to provide on-going mental help services or therapy and additional resources are offered as needed.
“Our job is to stay connected in the community and to know what resources are available in order to give the client the best fit and the best options,” Hauptman said. “Women in need should know that whatever their need is, there are people in the community who are ready to help.”
For more information about the services and programs offered at the Domestic Violence Shelter, the 24-hour number available seven days a week is 402.558.5700. In an emergency situation, call 911.