June 3, 2014 at 1:00 am

Laura Berman

Haven to offer services for abuse victims under one expanded roof

Haven will provide residential space, and also victims' services. (Architect's rendering)

Haven, the Oakland County shelter for domestic abuse survivors, has no sign and no listed address. It’s effectively a stealth residence, maintaining the idea that secrecy protects victims from the abusers they so desperately fled.

But its reputation as a safe but secret place is about to change. Haven last week announced plans to build a new 36,000-square-foot center in Pontiac based on a new model that encompasses everything from housing to counseling to community counseling.

It will combine all functions under one large roof, embrace interaction with other agencies, and serve as a safe house.

But the new Haven will no longer be a secret house.

Haven isn’t declaring victory against domestic abuse or violence, but it is pioneering a new way of fighting the problem. “It’s still an epidemic,” says Beth Morrison, Haven’s executive director, who sees no abatement in the need for services.

Violence against women, especially, is still rampant. Somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of all murdered women die at the hands of their intimate partners, according to United Nations statistics.

Openness doesn’t signal triumph over domestic violence. But the proposed $8 million center does represent a powerful step toward that end.

It tackles the shame and embarrassment of victims, in a direct and palpable way. A fresh, new center that everyone can see speaks to survival, not victimhood.

“It’s a philosophical change,” says Morrison, of the decision to bring Haven out of the shadows. Secrecy is a way to enforce vulnerability and powerlessness. But opening Haven as a center for violence prevention and training in concert with other agencies promises to light another path.

Morrison traveled around the country to see close-up how other communities have addressed the problems of abuse. And in the end, she and the Haven board of directors opted for a more open model that’s been tried effectively in a few other communities, including Austin, Texas.

Safety will still be paramount. Security plans are being reviewed by the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. The new center — to be located just south of the sheriff’s office — will ultimately replace Haven’s Pontiac residential shelter and its Bingham Farms administrative office.

Morrison says the all-in-one concept has worked in other cities and will create new possibilities for education and prevention.

For Haven’s clients, finding ways to move from temporary shelter to permanent housing and employment are major challenges. Providing for immediate safety is the first concern — but after 30 days, where do these women and their children go?

By moving counselors, administrators and residents into one building, Haven hopes to create a more comfortable — and helpful — temporary residence. Morrison says she’s hoping to team up with JVS’ Women to Work program, which provides job counseling and assessment, under the same roof.

Groundbreaking on the six-acre site on Telegraph is scheduled for June 18, and fundraising is very much a work in progress.

But the plan is for this comprehensive center to reduce residents’ fears and anxiety by offering an alternative — the security of sharing space, and hope, as part of a community that cares.

(313) 222-2032
Laura Berman’s column runs Tuesday and Thursday.