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SOUTH-CENTRAL : Women's Shelter Struggles to Rebuild


When the 22-bed shelter that Bernita Walker-Moss helped start nearly a decade ago burned to the ground in January, she shrugged off the accidental blaze, confident the shelter would soon reopen. But nearly six months later, she is still struggling to rebuild the Jenesse Center Inc.'s shelter for victims of domestic violence.

"We're anxious to reopen the shelter and help the women of South-Central," said Walker-Moss, the center's executive director. "We had replacement insurance but we can't go back and build at the site of the fire because the location has been disclosed."

The shelter's officials have routinely requested that its location not be disclosed, fearing the women and children housed there could be hurt by an abusive mate.

The center is in negotiations with California Fair Plan, its insurer, to recover funds and open a new shelter at another undisclosed site. In the meantime, women and children have temporarily been placed in motels until another shelter becomes available.

"We've really had to work out deals with hotel and motels," said Henry Etheredge, who heads the center's board of directors. "And this has meant our hot-line workers have had to work around the clock trying to handle calls in order to make arrangements for women, rather than simply being able to bring the women directly to the shelter."

The insurance company agreed to allow the shelter to relocate after hearing from the city and county that the safety of the women could be jeopardized if the center were rebuilt in the same location, Etheredge said.

The shelter is trying to raise funds, including a luncheon attended by Miss America Kimberly Aiken.

But with summer here, Walker-Moss said the shelter remains unprepared to handle what are normally among the busiest months for women's shelters.

"It's a time of transition and the kids are out of school," said Walker-Moss, who expects a 25% increase in calls over the Fourth of July weekend from battered women. The number of calls to the center has already risen by about 30%, to 10 or 11 calls a day, following the June 12 slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

While the slayings have increased public attention on the problem of domestic abuse, Walker-Moss said she hopes it will translate into more support for women and children and donations to shelters.

The center and shelter were established in 1980 by Walker-Moss and four other women who were victims of domestic violence. Their experience led them to focus on women in South-Central, where the lack of resources heightened the importance of a women's shelter, Walker-Moss said.

"Look, there aren't enough beds for children and women fleeing for their lives nationwide, period," said Walker-Moss. "When we first started this shelter people thought, 'Well, violence, that's just the way people live in South-Central,' but that isn't true. I wasn't raised to live with violence."

In Los Angeles, there are approximately 250 beds for battered women and their children, according to the district attorney's office.

The center, headquartered at 8803 S. Broadway, operates on an annual budget of about $375,000 with a staff of 12, including a part-time counselor works with victims.

Information: (213) 751-1145.

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