Shelter celebrates 25 years of helping women, children

Posted: Monday, September 13, 2010

Inez Hadeen feared for her life.

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Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Inez Hadeen has used The LeeShore Center to establish a new life for herself in Kenai. She is preparing to move into an apartment of her own.

"He tried to shoot me," said the 62-year-old Kenai resident. "He accused me of poisoning him."

After her husband suffered a closed head injury from a bad accident everything in their relationship changed. He started acting differently. He started threatening her.

"It was like my husband died in the accident and this monster came in," Hadeen said.

Things progressed when her then daughter-in-law moved in with her boyfriend and conducted drug activities in their home. Hadeen turned in the daughter-in-law and her boyfriend, and they tried to run her down.

"It was frightening," she said. "So I had to leave."

Hadeen's longtime friend lived in Alaska and suggested she move up here. On Jan. 31, Hadeen came to Kenai.

"I gave up living," she said. "I came up here to start a new life."

She initially moved in with her friend but a family tragedy made the living arrangement tight. She needed to find another place to live and in April she checked in at the LeeShore Center.

"When I came here I was a basket case, crying, upset, terrified," she said. "I've never been in a shelter before."

The LeeShore Center helps women like Hadeen every day -- women that have given up and need help starting anew. And the center has been providing support and shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault for a quarter of a century.

On Friday, the LeeShore Center celebrated its 25th anniversary with an open house and free barbecue for the community.

"It's just our way of saying thanks to the community because the community is so supportive," said Cheri Smith, the center's executive director.

She said the need for a women's resource center and shelter has always been there but was brought to the forefront by a group of women in the late 1970s who recognized it and began working together to create a refuge for the abused and battered in the community.

"This shelter was built with community labor and materials," she said.

The numbers of incidents and services provided by the center have increased over the years, Smith said, but she does not see that as a negative.

"I think that 25 years ago it wasn't an issue that people were talking about," Smith said. "The numbers going up are not necessarily a bad thing. More people are aware of it and more people are seeking help."

On a state level, nearly 75 percent of Alaskans have experienced or know someone who has been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, according to the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

According to Smith, the center provided emergency shelter to 185 women and children for an average of about 42 nights each and walk-in advocacy support to 328 individuals for fiscal year 2010.

The center also provided nearly 4,000 safety check calls due to victims' requests.

"We have a great need in the community, we see a lot of those victims every year," she said. "We average serving or seeing 20 new people a month. I'm always amazed at that number because we've been here for so long."

Some women, like Nichole Freeman, have stayed in the shelter more than once over the years.

Freeman, 24, of Kenai, said she stayed in the shelter as a teenager with her mother. She checked into LeeShore about a month ago, her second time as an adult after two bad relationships.

"The first time I was kind of nervous because I never thought I'd be in that same position my mom was in as an adult," she said. She said the groups really help her to learn about healthier relationships.

She said she would be homeless if it wasn't for the center.

"I don't know what I'd do," she said. "It's the resources and the place to stay, it's a roof over my head and food in my mouth."

Currently, Freeman is in the shelter while she looks for a job and waits for a place to live.

She said she hopes this is the last time she has to live at LeeShore.

"I want to do the right things this time and get my life together," she said.

In addition to emergency shelter services, including job and housing help, the center also offers crisis intervention, child-care assistance, legal advocacy and educational outreach as well as a 25-bed transitional housing facility, she said.

The LeeShore Center is one of the few shelters that allow women to bring their pets in with them.

"It's very common for a woman to come to an emergency shelter and the pet is killed that same night," Smith said. "That's one of the reasons we allow pets to come in. You're dealing with someone who believes they have that right to abuse a human or an animal."

And children, including boys, are welcome, too.

"We also don't exclude boys from coming in with mom," Smith said. "We've had boys even turn 18 in the shelter."

Now Hadeen, due to resources at LeeShore, has a permanent part-time job at the Soldotna Boys & Girls Club and is finding a place to live with her Alaska Housing Finance Corporation voucher.

"It's not like you're just out there alone," Hadeen said. "That's something I always feared."

For Hadeen, the shelter is more than just the resources -- it's a place for her to start over.

"At my age I thought, 'Well, my life's over, I don't have a lot to live for,' but you know I have a lot to live for," she said. "I'd never seen a moose before."

She said she loves living in Alaska, and is planning to stay here permanently.

"There seems to be a freedom here to live and enjoy life. It's not so fast-paced," she said.

"At 62 years old I'm finally learning how to live and that life is worthwhile."

And with the help of the LeeShore Center she feels like she's found her home.

"I finally found a place where I feel safe," she said.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.



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