Neighbors concerned about Milford domestic violence shelter

By Neal McNamara
July 1, 2013

A large, two-story house with a small front yard in a tightly packed neighborhood will soon become the city’s first domestic violence shelter but some neighbors don’t want it there, fearing for their safety and property values.

The BHcare organization, of Ansonia, will run the shelter, and hopes to have it open in six months.

The house is vacant now, but could eventually serve up to 15 women and children, though a BHcare representative said it’s likely there will only be five people staying there at a time.

“It’s a safe house, not long-term housing. It’s somewhere to keep people safe, so they have time to find them a stable environment,” said Roberta Cook, CEO of BHcare.

To keep domestic violence victims safe, the locations of shelters are kept secret. To preserve that confidentiality, the New Haven Register is choosing to disclose neither the location nor the names of neighbors.

Cook said her organization heard from one neighbor several months ago with concerns.

She met the neighbor along with Mayor Benjamin G. Blake to try to assuage his concerns, and sent him information about shelter programs. She said that was the last communication between either of them.

“When we heard that a neighbor was upset, we met to try to make it an open and honest process and let him know what was going on there,” Cook said.

That resident explained his concerns to a reporter. He worried that, since the shelter is owned by a nonprofit, the city would lose property taxes.

He also feared property values would plummet.

Blake declined to comment for this story because of the shelter confidentiality issue.

Another neighbor expressed fear that violent people would find the shelter, which would put everyone in the neighborhood at risk.

“Maybe their spouses will look for them and come to the area — it’s very unsettling,” she said, standing outside her house two doors down from the shelter’s site.

She also expressed concern about property values, saying she’s been renovating her house for three years. She said most neighbors are “100 percent against (the shelter).”

But at least one neighbor was supportive of the shelter. Writing in an email to a reporter, the neighbor cited concern about the prevalence of domestic violence, and the number of women and children it affects.

“No matter how quickly I try to compose this email, many women will be assaulted or beaten during it; one every nine seconds in the U.S. alone,” he wrote in an email. “A domestic violence shelter is a small step, but a necessary one, and I’m proud to know that my community is stepping up.”

Karen Jarmoc, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said there are 18 domestic violence shelters across the state, and there have been no incidents at any of them.

As far as declining property values, there’s “no data to suggest that because there’s a domestic violence shelter that there’s a property value decrease,” she said.

Incidents of violence occurring at domestic violence shelters are hard to come by. In 2006, a North Carolina man broke into a shelter, shot his estranged wife, killing her, but that shelter’s location was not secret.

According to Jarmoc’s organization, more than 2,300 women and children in Connecticut had to seek out a shelter because of violence between July 2011-2012.

Jarmoc, who was formerly in charge of a shelter in Enfield, said domestic violence shelters existed in Connecticut for 30 years, and are located in urban, rural, and suburban communities.

“Neighbors have been supporters (of shelters) because they understand this is a house just like any other house. It’s not meant to stand apart. You don’t want to draw attention to it. The yard is kept up nicely, the environment is very positive. It’s not a negative,” she said.

According to city records, there are pending electrical and building permits for the house, and a past application to alter a bathroom to make it handicap accessible.

Cook said BHcare operates another shelter in Ansonia and did not encounter any resistance from neighbors. She promised Milford’s shelter would be an asset.

“We will be very good neighbors,” she said. “We encourage any neighbors to call us with any of their concerns. We’ll talk with them any time they want.”

Source: NH Register