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Los Angeles | TIMES HOLIDAY CAMPAIGN

Haven House Helps Families Put Fear and Violence Behind Them

October 28, 2003|Cara Mia DiMassa | Times Staff Writer

While the mission of Haven House -- which has been serving battered women and their families since 1961 -- is unambiguous, its exact location must remain a secret.

So, too, will the names of any of the women residing there.

There is too much danger, said Haven House executive director Sheila Halfon, in certain people knowing too much. Danger for the women, their children and their families. Danger for the Haven House staff members who counsel, assist and support them.

And so Halfon and her staff go about their work in a sort of chosen anonymity, in order to protect the women and children they care for.

The San Gabriel Valley center remains true to its title: It is a refuge, a place of sanctuary for families fleeing their abusers. Haven House received a $10,000 grant from the 2003 Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign, which raises money for nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

Halfon would love more than anything to be put out of business: to break the cycle and erase the horrible pattern that shows that children who witness abuse are more likely as adults to become victims or perpetrators of more violence.

But she knows that hers is not an easy task, that ending something so pervasive will never be a quick fix: An act of domestic violence occurs every 18 seconds in the United States, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the meantime, Haven House acts as a sort of lifeline for the families -- about 50 women and 150 children -- who stay there each year.

It is a place where they can begin to imagine futures without abuse, without their abusers.

The families who enter Haven House suspend their lives for the 45 days they are there.

The mother spends her time getting counseling, assistance with finding housing and employment, and legal aid.

Her children transfer into a nearby school, where they attend classes while they are at the shelter.

They have their own counselors and activities.

In addition, Haven House operates a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline providing crisis intervention, support and information for battered women. It runs an education program for local teens, teaching them about the ingredients for a healthy relationship, and a Web site, ItsnotOK.org.

One woman who was a resident of the shelter, and is now a staff member there, recounted her story.

Before she went to Haven House, she said, it had gotten to the point where her husband's beatings no longer affected her; she was contemplating suicide.

"I knew something was wrong, and I had to help myself," she said.

She called a crisis line that she found in the Yellow Pages; they helped her formulate a plan to get out of the relationship, and recommended shelters to her. She said Haven House was at the top of the list.

"The 45 days I spent here made me realize that I had lost myself somewhere in those years," she said.

The shelter also helped counsel her teenage daughter through the painful process of testifying against her father.

Haven House, said Halfon, provides families "not just a warm bed and hot meal, but the tools to live their lives free of violence when they leave here."

After going through the program, "I felt like I was empowered again," said the staff member.

"I was able to make decisions. The monkey was off my back."

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HOW TO GIVE

The annual Holiday Campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $800,000 raised at 50 cents on the dollar. Donations (checks or money orders) supporting the Holiday Campaign should be sent to: L.A. Times Holiday Campaign, File 56986, Los Angeles, CA 90074-6986. Do not send cash. Credit card donations can be made on the Web site: www.latimes.com/holidaycampaign.

All donations are tax-deductible. Contributions of $50 or more may be published in The Times unless a donor requests otherwise; acknowledgment cannot be guaranteed. For more information call (800) LATIMES, Ext. 75771.

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