BY KEN LITTLE
Resources available to recent victims of domestic violence in Greene County include shelters where victims can stay on a short-term basis.
But Daniel Velez saw another need five years ago -- providing long-term housing for domestic violence victims.
ASafeHarborHome, Inc., is the result.
The non-profit organization, based in Greeneville, provides shelter assistance for six months up to two years for victims of domestic violence, said Velez, who founded ASafeHarborHome with his wife, Lilly Gonzalez.
Velez is CEO of the organization, which serves an eight-county area of Northeast Tennessee, including Greene County.
The program is supported by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants, although Velez said donations from the public are also important to help keep it going.
Clients must meet federal low-income standards to qualify, Velez said. If they do, the Safe Harbor Home program pays the rent.
"We come after the emergency shelter," Velez said. "After the emergency shelter, they don't have anywhere to go."
That situation often results in victims' returning to their previous living situations, and the batterers who abuse them.
"They go back to the abuser, or to a relative, or they become homeless," Velez said. "What we do is enhance the services emergency shelters provide."
Through the Safe Harbor Home program, domestic abuse victims can pick out where they want to live.
"They find their own place. We do an inspection of the place, and then we pay the rent for up to two years (or) until they go on to permanent housing," he said.
Some local domestic violence victims are not aware the program exists, Velez said.
MOST CLIENTS ARE WOMEN
There are currently about eight clients in the Safe Harbor Home program, including four who live in housing in Greene County, he said.
The majority of clients are female.
Many domestic abuse victims fall into "a pattern of controlling behaviors aimed at gaining power in order to control an intimate partner," according to the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference.
That makes it difficult for many victims to work or gain job experience, although "some may have a job but it's low-paying," Velez said.
"Because their abuser controls them, they have very little access to the privileges other women have," he said.
A NEED FOR SERVICES
The problem of domestic violence in Greene County is on the rise, said Velez, an ordained minister who has worked with families in crisis for more than 22 years.
Before founding ASafeHarborHome, Inc., Velez worked as a forensic interviewer for the Child Advocacy Center of the Third Judicial District, which includes Greene County. His wife Lilly worked for Habitat for Humanity.
"We know that the problem is increasing," he said. "My wife heard that there was a need for these types of services, so we discussed it and decided to start this project."
Some domestic violence shelters allow victims to remain about one month, Velez said.
"They do a real good job, (but) there's only so much they can do," he explained. "Many times (victims) have nowhere else to go. They go back to this situation, and it puts them at higher risk."
If victims qualify for the Safe Harbor Home program, "They don't have to worry where the rent is coming from," Velez said.
The program also helps clients learn work skills so they can get a job, he added.
A WAY OUT
Velez says he wants domestic violence victims to know there is a way out.
"They don't seek help because they think the situation is hopeless," he said. "They say, 'I didn't know this was available. I need help and don't know where to go.'"
As one means of raising funds, the Safe Harbor Home program operates the Charity Treasures store at 112 Austin St.
For more information on ASafeHarborHome, call (423) 218-0774 or visit the organization's website at http://www.asafeharborhome.org