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Today's Family Magazine

Forbes House provides more than shelter

Feb 02, 2020 01:01PM

Sleeping quarters at Forbes House feature bunk beds, a dresser and a small closet. Cribs are available for little ones.

By Deanna Adams

For a woman, or man, suffering from domestic abuse (or what’s now referred to as intimate partner abuse), one phone call can be life changing.

“Our first question is always, are you safe?” says Kathy Strancar, executive director for Forbes House, the only domestic violence shelter in Lake County.  “We get them to our facility, provide the essentials: shelter, food, clothing, guidance, and help with their individual needs.”

From its inception in 1979, the mission at Forbes House is to empower individuals and families to end the cycle of domestic abuse and move on to a better life for themselves and their children.  The shelter’s undisclosed location allows the “survivor” (the preferred term), a private sanctuary where they can feel safe from their abuser, and advocates to aid in helping them get to a better place, both mentally and physically.

And yes, that includes men.  “We do get some men here with their children,” Strancar says.  “Abuse has no boundaries.”

Statistics underscore that statement.  Abuse can affect any demographic, be it age, gender, race, occupation, education level, or income.  Currently, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men experience some form of intimate partner violence.

Once at the shelter, the approach is all-inclusive.  Survivors receive a number of free services including counseling, legal aid, support groups, community outreach, help with employment, and aftercare programs.  “We work closely with JFS (Department of Job and Family Services), Crossroads Health, Lifeline, Extended Housing and other shelters like WomenSafe,” Strancar says. 

The facility, which has 24/7 surveillance, has just six sleeping rooms, but 24 beds, so residents must work together and be mindful of each other.  There is a large kitchen area, a family room with television, videos and books, children’s playroom, and bathrooms/showers for both men and women.

But there is also some work involved.  “Every resident must be responsible and take ownership.  We have a meeting every Sunday where we make a weekly schedule,” Strancar adds.  The schedule includes distributing the chores, cooking duties, and group activities. “Everyone works together, but it’s not an easy time for them.  It’s a stressful time.  And almost always, children are involved.  So their needs must be considered.”

Strancar adds that with the generosity of volunteers, they can offer babysitting services to give the parent a break.  The agency, of course, does background checks on all volunteers and interns.  Presently, they are in need of part-time family advocates.

“We do a little bit of everything,” says Carol Nottage, who has worked there as an advocate for 15 years.  “We’re here for all kinds of needs, from answering the phone lines, to ensuring personal safety, to helping them with transportation.  Some come here without a car so we help them with the bus schedule, as well as give them information on all the services available to them.”

Details about other valuable agencies is especially helpful to those who come from outside the county.  “We’ll even get people from outside the state,” Nottage says.  “We’ve had those involved in human trafficking ask for help, sometimes directly, or through a hospital or teacher. So we’re here to give them protection and steer them in the right direction, help get their lives on track.”

Trained advocates will also visit schools to speak on healthy dating for teens and educate them, in hopes of preventing the cycle of abuse.

Forbes House accepts, and is always in need of, donations.  The facility keeps a storage area with items as integral as toothpaste, shampoo and bath soap, along with larger needs such as clothing, bedding, and toys for their children.  The agency also welcomes monetary donations.

While the shelter is immediate, it is a temporary solution to an urgent crisis.  Leaving the abusive environment is the first step, but domestic violence survivors often need long-term counseling, housing, legal assistance, and more.  “Finding them more permanent housing is our biggest challenge,” Strancar says, adding that securing employment is often the first step towards independence, and hope for the future.

“The survivors often feel powerless to change things.  They can’t understand why the person who’s supposed to love them abuses them.  We do whatever we can to help them concentrate on themselves.  Just last week, two of the survivors secured employment and I’m so happy for them.  This job is my passion, it speaks to my heart.”

The website is filled with information, and has an extensive list of what to do if you find yourself, or someone you love, in an unhealthy or dangerous situation.  It includes what to know in case you need to leave in a hurry.

Forbes House Helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Call (440) 357-1018 or visit forbeshouse.org.