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Battered Women : Coalition Struggles to Find Home

August 04, 1988|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

If you think you have problems putting a roof over your head in the seller's market of Ventura County, consider the plight of the Coalition Against Household Violence.

For the past four months, Coalition officials have been trying to replace their shelter for battered women, whose safety they said was jeopardized when Pacific Bell listed its address in the 1988 telephone book.

They are shopping for a six-bedroom house near schools and bus lines. The sort of residential neighborhood where a dwelling of that size normally is found is out of the question, though. Zoning laws usually prohibit the sort of household that the Coalition has in mind--a shelter for up to 17 abused women and their children.

Worse yet, the Coalition can only spend $230,000--roughly the going rate for a house half the current shelter's size.

"I'm literally driving up and down the streets trying to locate "For Sale" signs, and there's just nothing available," said Jennifer Martin, a volunteer who is coordinating the search. "It's very frustrating."

Martin, a founder of the Ventura-based nonprofit group, six years ago helped the group find its first shelter, a rambling suburban home in a Ventura neighborhood where most of the driveways sport motorhomes and sprinklers water expansive lawns.

Cost $100,000

With its anonymous facade and an unlisted address, the house that was purchased with $100,000 from the cities of Ventura and Oxnard, as well as Ventura County, turned out to be a perfect haven for the women, who say their abusive husbands and boyfriends would go to any lengths to track them down. The shelter, whose clients often arrive with children but without a car, was even within walking distance of an elementary school and bus stop.

Then, in April, Coalition officials complained that the telephone company blew the shelter's cover by listing its address. Now they are asking for restitution.

Pacific Telephone denies responsibility for the listing. Spokeswoman Charlene Baldwin said "there isn't any documentation" indicating that the Coalition asked for an unlisted address at the shelter when a new telephone line was installed.

"While we sympathize with the Coalition and support their cause," Baldwin said, "it's just not clear that they requested that the new address be unlisted."

As for restitution, Baldwin said, the telephone company last month made an "appropriate" contribution to the shelter to "help them with their operating expenses." Additional help also will be forthcoming, she said.

"There aren't any specifics now, but we're talking about helping them with fund-raisers or building up their board of directors so that they can raise funds," Baldwin said.

Fears of Violence

The shelter's executive director, Sheryl Scott, said there is some confusion about whether a Coalition official expressly told the company not to list the address when the telephone line was installed. However, she said, the company should have referred to the shelter's longstanding order for an unlisted address. As for the contribution, Scott is reserving judgment.

"I don't know whether that's going to be adequate until we get a new shelter," Scott said. "If there's a big gap, we might have to go back to them for more help."

Meanwhile, Coalition officials complain that the shelter is a sitting duck for the sort of violence vengeful men can generate toward their fleeing mates.

"If she leaves without his permission, it pushes his button like that," Scott said. "He gets mad at anyone who tries to shield or protect that woman because he believes that he owns her and this other person doesn't have any right to his property."

Coalition officials say they have had one bomb threat by the husband of a battered woman who boasted that he knew the shelter's whereabouts. Another man identified himself as a wife-beater and showed up at the shelter seeking help, but Coalition staff members believe it was only a ruse to gain access.

Looking Elsewhere

"If he was looking for his wife or he was angry at us for breaking up his marriage by sheltering his wife, we don't know," Scott said. "There are a number of things that could have been going on there."

And several potential clients have had to look elsewhere for protection from abusive husbands; in July alone, Coalition officials referred six women to the county's one other shelter and several in other counties. The current shelter, meanwhile, operates at less than capacity.

Officials at the county's other shelter, which is run by Interface Children Family Services of Camarillo, said that at least one woman turned to their shelter after learning that the Coalition's address was listed.

"The issue of fear for the safety of the women, their children and staff is a real issue," said Kate McLean, Interface's executive director.

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