ARTESIA — After years of looking for a permanent home while shuttling among rental houses, the Su Casa shelter for battered women and their children will open its own facility June 1.
The new shelter--one of 18 such facilities in Los Angeles County for abused women--will house up to 22 people, a 57% increase from its current capacity of 14.
Su Casa has been offering free emergency shelter and counseling for abused women and their children since 1979. Nearly 1,700 women and children have found refuge there so far, and 7,000 more have received telephone counseling. Although an office with a hot line is in this city, the shelter's location has always been kept confidential to protect those seeking refuge.
The shelter has been housed in three rented locations until now. The last one was an 1880s home that Mary Richey, shelter director, described as a "royal hovel." The shelter moved from there when it bought the new property. The women have been temporarily living in a small house on the property while the new home is being completed.
Despite the dilapidated conditions of the last location, where they experienced frequent electrical outages, the prime motive for seeking a permanent shelter was to get more room rather than more comfort, Richey said. She said that Su Casa had to turn away 191 women last year for lack of space.
The shelter's keeps its location secret not only because of the danger to women whose husbands try to find them, but also to prevent desperate women from arriving when there are no beds available, the director said.
The new home will cost more than $300,000. The down payment on the property was made with a government grant and with $56,000 from the Soroptimists International of Artesia-Cerritos. The shelter depends on private donations and local, state and federal government funds. For example, a portion of all marriage license fees goes to help support shelters for battered women throughout the state. There is no charge to the women who stay at Su Casa.
Jan M. Armstrong, acting executive director of the Southern California Coalition on Battered Women, said that FBI statistics show that one out of four American women will be assaulted by a man she is closely associated with during her lifetime. The numbers are even greater for handicapped women, said Su Casa services coordinator Peggie Reyna said.
"Even if the woman is well-educated and with marketable job skills, physical abuse can take place," Reyna said. In addition to being a Su Casa counselor, she is an interpreter for the deaf, and a formerly abused wife herself, as are more than half the Su Casa staff members.
"With the physical abuse goes psychological damage," she said. "Frequently, (the woman) thinks she is crazy. She lives in daily terror, and in emotional and psychological isolation. Her whole focus becomes to just get through the day without being beaten again. It becomes a question of, 'Can I function?' It takes everything you've got to get it together to make the beds."
Women call Su Casa for help from phone booths, hospital emergency rooms and relatives' homes. Often, they have run from their homes with nothing but their children in their arms and the clothes they are wearing. The average stay is 12 days, although some may remain as long as 30 days. Su Casa, which has a telephone device for the deaf on its hot line as well as two sign-language interpreters on staff, is making a special effort to reach abused deaf women, who are even more isolated than other abused women, Richey said.
In addition to its services to women and children, Su Casa has instituted a training program for police and sheriff's departments in the southeast Los Angeles County area to teach them about California law covering abuse.
Su Casa is also an official reporting agency for suspected child abuse. The 24-hour English and Spanish hot line number is (213) 402-4888.