FREEPORT — VOICES of Stephenson County serves roughly 700 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and abuse each year, and they do it all without an emergency shelter.
When the need arises to find a space place for clients, they have to send them to another county.
That will change this fall when the nonprofit opens Stephenson County’s first shelter, located within VOICES’ building on Turner Avenue in Freeport. The facility will soon house temporary living quarters for up to 20 people.
“We know the need is great,” said Kerry Lloyd, VOICES’ services coordinator.
Jennifer Cacciapaglia, a member of the board of directors for the Family Peace Center in Rockford as well as manager of the Mayor’s Office of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking Prevention, said it’s “critically” important for Stephenson County to have a shelter of its own.
“The fact that they are going to be able to open a space that so many people in their region are going to able to avail themselves to in times of crisis is wonderful,” Cacciapaglia said.
VOICES is awaiting the arrival of furniture and appliances and is in the process of hiring 10 additional staff members before opening the shelter in late August or early September.
A safe haven
VOICES of Stephenson County, an integral part of the community since 1982, offers individuals and families survivor-centered services and support such as counseling, advocacy and education to treat and prevent domestic violence and sexual assault and abuse.
The nonprofit is funded by federal, state and local grants and relocated last year into an 8,115-square-foot, handicapped-accessible building that sits on an 1-acre lot donated by Sojourn House, a former residential drug and alcohol treatment facility.
VOICES is using half of the building for its offices and case management and the other half for the shelter, which features five bedrooms, each large enough to accommodate four people; bathrooms; a living room; a kitchen and dining area; outdoor space; and laundry facilities.
The shelter will be run with an emphasis on accessibility and safety, Lloyd said.
Like all of the agency’s services, stays at the shelter will be free of charge. The shelter also is pet friendly and monitored 24/7 by security cameras.
“When a survivor is looking at options for leaving an abusive relationship, there are a number of things that hold them back,” she said, “such as children, pets, income and a safe place to go.
“Whatever your family unit looks like, your family can come to VOICES for safe shelter.”
The shelter will provide survivors a temporary safe haven — two days to two weeks, Lloyd said, until more permanent arrangements can be made.
Many of VOICES clients come to them by way of the Freeport police and Stephenson County sheriff’s departments.
Law enforcement officers from both agencies have made it a practice to perform a lethality assessment, an evidence-based questionnaire posed to victims of intimate partner domestic violence to help determine if the victim is likely to be seriously hurt or killed.
If individuals are determined to be at risk, they are referred to VOICES. The agency will then offer legal help such as obtaining an order of protection and finding a safe place to live.
Freeport Deputy Chief Travis Davis said officers encounter domestic violence cases on a daily basis.
“Having the in-town shelter will benefit the entire community,” he said.
The Peace Center opened in July 2020 in Rockford as a one-stop shop offering an array of services for victims of domestic and sexual violence. The center serves clients throughout the region including Freeport and even as far west as Iowa.
“To know now that there will be a shelter in between where they are coming from and Rockford is going to be really, really important to those clients and survivors,” Cacciapaglia said,
Chris Green: [email protected]; @chrisfgreen
Stephenson County gets VOICES shelter for domestic violence survivors