Story by: Nicholas Holstein

Harbor House is the area’s shelter and the United Way of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties agency for victims of domestic violence.

Throughout the last fiscal year, Harbor House provided services to 424 victims of domestic violence.

Of that group, 92 adults and children were provided with 2,294 nights at the Harbor House shelter. The length of stays at the shelter vary with each individual case, but 30 days would be a typical stay.

Harbor House operates on a $700,000 annual budget that includes funding from the Department of Human Services, the Illinois Attorney General, United Way donations and fundraising. Some funds also come from a resale shop in Watseka, located at 100 E. Walnut St., the shop is open 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. The store features clothes, household items and furniture.

“We could not do what we need to do without community support,” said Jenny Schoenwetter, executive director for Harbor House. Last May, for example, Langlois Roofing, Sheet Metal Workers Local 265 and the United Union of Roofers and Waterproofers Local 11 teamed up to donate a much needed new roof for the facility.

Harbor House also provides services other than shelter. In the last fiscal year, it helped with 114 orders of protection and fielded more than 4,000 calls on its Hotline (815-932-5800 in Kankakee County, 815-432-3500 in Iroquois County).

Think spoke with Schoenwetter. The questions were posed by Phil Angelo, and Schoenwetter provided the answers. Both are edited for length and continuity.

What are the basics of the shelter here?

We have three transitional apartments. These include space for children. School districts arrange transportation for the children to get to school. We even have space for pets. We have a dog here now.

There’s a kitchen. Everyone does their own cooking.

We have two new laptops. They are used so the individuals can look for jobs and look for housing. We want to help people reach their goals, but we are not going to tell you what to do.

It’s very rare when our shelter is not full.

What happens when it is full?

I despise it when we turn people away. It’s a question we ask ourselves — should we expand? Where would we get the funding?

We give people information. Maybe help them get out of town. We’ve paid for train tickets and had people go as far as New York and Pennsylvania.

There is no network of abuse shelters. All are independent agencies. We all have different rules.

How is this shelter being updated?

We are bringing life — renovating this facility. We would love to have groups adopt an area to improve it.

We are working with a designer, Desiree Denoyer of DM Design, who is volunteering her time. We need some repainting, some artwork, new toys and new carpeting for the Kid Zone.

We think of physical abuse, but there actually are many different kinds of abuse.

You have the obvious — the bruises, the black eyes. Strangulation is a big red flag.

But there also is emotional abuse, where you tear into someone’s self-esteem. You have financial abuse, where people need permission to spend money or to get a job. There’s sexual abuse. You can be raped by a spouse.

A lot of it is about power and control. When the controller starts to lose control, that can be a very dangerous time for the victim. When they try to regain it, sometimes, that means death.

We have a great partnership with local law enforcement in helping victims. It is essential if you are being abused, that you have a safety plan. Please call us, and we will work on a safety plan. Everyone’s safety plan is different.

Is there a link between the economy and abuse? Do you blame drugs or alcohol?

There really is no correlation with the economy. There have been some studies that show an increase of abuse connected to the stress of the holidays.

Alcohol in and of itself is not a connection. People make a decision to be abusive. Neither are drugs a cause. They can escalate the problem, though.

The real problem is treating the victim like an object.

Can an abuser change?

Some abusers can change, but not all can change. There are court-mandated classes designed to help.

There is a great book on the subject, “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft.

So, you have hope?

You have to have hope. The moment we lose hope would become very depressing. Despite this field, you have to be an optimist. One of our pluses is a new program on teens and dating violence, “Love You to Death,” put on in conjunction with Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe. (The second annual program was held earlier in February). One in three teen girls will be the subject of dating violence. This is really about stopping future abusers. (Program suggestions include double dating; knowing the exact date plans; telling someone you know when you are leaving a party and asking them to check on you and being aware that drugs and alcohol decrease your ability to react).

A lot of people model their relationship on what they have seen, but this would seem to be a problem with just fewer relationships to model.

And what you see at home might not be a good example. A lot of the relationships you see in the media are unhealthy. You might just be seeing only one side.

Is this a problem where things are getting better or getting worse?

There really hasn’t been much change. The numbers of people we serve has been very consistent throughout the years.

What are your plans for the future?

We must focus on prevention. We have a position open to work on prevention, and we intend to fill it. Abuse occurs in many different relationships: marriage, cohabitation and dating.

We have to get victims away from their abusers because, often, the abusers will take the vehicle. We have to expand shelter opportunities, so we have safehouses.

What has been the most rewarding part of this job?

This is a horrendous problem. There are stories of people who get their face bashed in, but I work with a great team of people who give me hope and encouragement, and I get to be a cheerleader and an advocate for a service that is needed. The staff here is our strongest asset.

Read the original story here.