June 18, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Ceremony marks next phase of growth for Oakland Co. facility HAVEN

Erica Smith of Jackson shares her story with a group of HAVEN supporters at a private groundbreaking ceremony in Pontiac on Wednesday. (Lauren Abdel-Razzaq / The Detroit News)

Even though Erica Smith feared for her life whenever her husband drank too much, she refused to admit she needed to get out of her marriage.

Then in 2002, her husband dragged her from the side of his pick-up truck and left her for dead on a muddy dirt road. She woke up in a hospital with stones and her torn clothes embedded in her raw skin.

“I did not want to admit it was my husband,” the Jackson resident said. “How could I?”

Emergency responders took her to HAVEN, the Oakland County residential center for survivors of domestic abuse and, though it took her time to come to terms with it, Smith began to recover and recognize she needed to get away from her husband.

“I had taken the first step into my new life,” she said.

On Wednesday, Smith shared her story at a private groundbreaking ceremony marking the start of construction for HAVEN’s $8 million Family Justice Center. The campaign has raised since 2010 just over $4 million and is expecting to get federal tax credits accounting for another $3 million. But it still needs about a million dollars to complete funding.

The “groundbreaking” was ceremonial, because violent thunderstorms forced the group to move inside the nearby Michigan Department of Transportation service center building.

At the end of last month, HAVEN launched the public portion of its Plant the Seeds of Hope campaign to pay for construction of the 36,000-square-foot facility that will bring together counseling, advocacy, residential and other services under one roof.

For years, HAVEN has had to turn away survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault because the nonprofit did not have room to house them. Over the past five years, the length of stay for residential clients has increased from an average of 28 days to 37. It has also had to send survivors seeking services to offices across the county. The new building will allow for all services at one location.

“More than just mere bricks and mortar, the building itself will help us change the fundamental way we work,” HAVEN CEO and President Beth Morrison said. “We’ll be much more effective and efficient in how we are able to assist those who need us most.”

The project is expected to be complete in the fall of 2016.

The center, on six acres at 800 Vanguard Drive — near the Oakland County complex in Pontiac — will include space for career counseling, job training, legal clinics, support group sessions, financial literacy sessions and a pet shelter. It will have 16 bedrooms. Unlike the current residential facility, the location of which is kept secret for privacy of the survivors, the new center will be advertised widely.

“The new facility will be visible to the public and it will be a lot easier for the community to find help and to get involved,” Morrison said.

Current facilities are spread out, with leased locations in Royal Oak and Bingham Farms and a residential building in Pontiac.

On average, the nonprofit serves 12,000 children and adults, mostly women, per year with counseling, educational programs and medical testing at its facilities. HAVEN also offers abuse prevention seminars off-site to 15,000 others each year.

(313) 222-2127