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SIMMONS: Freddi House offers freedom from the shackles of abuse

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Miss R has had a broken arm and a broken jaw, and both eyes blackened by beatings, one so badly that her socket had to be braced with a plastic cup.

She's a survivor of domestic violence and now helps other women along an underground railroad, of sorts, that operates in the D.C. metro area.

In her modest office this week, Miss R sits across from a white board that lists various schedules of Freddi House, a cluster of safe houses for abused mothers and single women.

She does not reveal clients' names, and I do not ask.

In fact, their names and Miss R's are inconsequential, as it is the services at Freddi House that underscore the reason for this story as Congress wrangles over funding to help get battered women situated so they no longer have to depend on their abusers.

Freddi House provides more than a welcoming bed; it's a first step toward leading women down a path of survival and self-sufficiency.

"We try to make them whole again," said Miss R.

Receiving women involved in the criminal justice system, Freddi House clients are given shelter, food, clothing, social and medical services.

Once there, the women get hygiene kits, are assigned furnished bedrooms and given a frank orientation. On the third day, they work with staff and caseworkers to develop individualized action plans that include job-seeking or education options as well as a list of in-house chores.

The clients also are handed a form that lays out Freddi House rules -- old-school rules of the order Grandma used to lay down.

Some of the rules are obvious -- no weapons, drugs, alcohol, unsupervised children, unsafe or unclean habits, violent or abusive behavior -- and some just make good doggone common sense -- out by 8 a.m., in by 10 p.m., and "no visitors."

The No. 1 Freddi House rule: "This location is Not to be disclosed to the abuser. Violation will mean immediate eviction."

"We tell them to read it at their leisure and they must sign," said Miss R. "It's for their own good."

Some of the women balk at certain rules, like the one that says no food deliveries.

After all, who doesn't like a slice of cheesy hot pizza now and again?

But delivery orders place clients, children and caretakers in jeopardy.

"Their violent partners might work [at the establishment], or frequent there, or see the victim at the door," said Miss R.

The houses this writer visited were clean and orderly, with laundry rooms, community areas, Internet access and well-appointed kitchens and bathrooms.

One house had a master en suite for Mom and four children, while two safe houses had beautifully appointed brick walls.

All the houses had locked gates in the front and rear, and windows were secured as well.

A completely different house run by another organization was unappealing: The bedrooms were tiny and the unsecured and unguarded entryway left visitors nervous because anyone, including abusers or anyone else off the street, could enter unquestioned -- making it an unsafe house, if you will.

Freddi House -- which began operating in January 2011 and also offers mental health and family counseling services, as well as free prescription delivery -- aided more than 160 women and 90 children last year alone.

The average age of the women was 28, and the average age of the children (who are fed free, courtesy of a catering company) was 3.

The operator of Freddi House, who asked to remain nameless, and Miss R said two other houses are ready to be occupied. One of them will include a novel component -- a romper room where children and teens can read and study, or play games and watch TV.

"The other two houses mean we can give at least an additional 30 people a ticket out of violence," said the operator, a native Washingtonian. "They are ready to go."

Women who enter programs like Freddi House are targeted for 30-day stays, and exceptions are made if, for example, more permanent housing won't be available for another week or two.

"We're one ticket out of the violence," said Miss R.

Indeed, domestic violence is the third-leading cause of homelessness among families, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- and the fear of being homeless can keep victims of such violence in the grips of their abusers.

Scores of former clients have written to Freddi House, thanking staff for helping them find a way forward.

"If I could stay longer I would," wrote Miss Y. "However they've shown me the steps and provided the resources for me to maintain on my own."

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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