- Associated Press - Sunday, October 22, 2017

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) - For more than 35 years the Haven House has served as a sanctuary for women and their children who are the victims of domestic violence.

Nestled in a nondescript house in Vicksburg the shelter has 22 beds and provides for every need of the women and their children including food, clothing, personal care items and counseling.

“We constantly have people in and out,” said Anna Tillotson, the shelter program manager. “We’ve had almost 22 and we’ve had two at time. It depends on what is going on for people. Everybody has their right time for them when it is time for them to seek the shelter and the services they want.”

October annually marks Domestic Violence Awareness and the staff at Haven House has been decked out in purple to help raise awareness and support all those who are in abusive relationships. They have spent the month working on outreach to help women in need learn about the services Haven House has to offer.

“Domestic violence, you hear a lot of people talk about an anger management problem or an anger issue. It is not an anger issue,” Tillotson said. “That is the difference between domestic violence and other violence. It is actually a power and control issue. One of the things with domestic violence is it is not just physical abuse. There is mental, verbal, emotional and even financial abuse.”

Tillotson didn’t have an estimate for how many women the shelter has helped over the years, but she said the average stay in the shelter in about four months. In that time, they work with the women to apply for social services such as food stamps and Medicaid, to build a resume and hopefully find a job, while also working with the women on the emotional needs. Just like the decision to seek the shelter, the decision to leave is made by the women when she feels she is ready and there is no set time limit.

“I have seen people come in who were physically abused who would not look you in the eye when they talked to you and probably could not have kept a job because of their demeanor because they are quiet, they are really reserved,” Tillotson said. “They come to where they run up to you in the hall and they are like ‘Guess what? I got a job.’ They are excited and watching that attitude change, watching them learn to become alive has been amazing.”

The Haven House also has an outreach program where Tillotson said they work with women who may not be ready to come to the shelter or may not need the shelter because they have other options. The outreach program helps women with counseling, signing up for social services and also works with women in the court system.

“We go into the court system and do crisis counseling for victims of domestic violence,” Tillotson said. “We walk them through the court system, we can help them with protection orders and just navigating the system because it can be a scary time for people.”

The goal of the Haven House is to enable women to stand on their own once they are ready to leave the shelter and be fully prepared to move forward.

“We really do work with their whole person. We have a counselor who works with them to work through any issues they may have,” Tillotson said. “We want them to be emotionally and psychologically ready to go that they are built back up and empowered so they make good choices and they make healthy relationship choices in the future.”

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