Expansion begins for Safe Haven

Agency breaks ground on $425K project
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Tossing dirt to kick off the expansion for Safe Haven are, from left, board member Scott Parson, executive director Stacey Cicero, U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, board member Jody Johnson, Shawano Mayor-elect Ed Whealon and state Rep. Gary Tauchen. The expansion, which will cost $425,000, is expected to be completed this fall.

More than 100 people crammed into Safe Haven for a groundbreaking ceremony Sunday, getting to see firsthand the crowded conditions and need for expansion at the emergency shelter.

“Safe Haven will be able to offer more prevention and early intervention to prevent the cycle of violence so individuals and families can live a life free from violence and abuse,” said Stacey Cicero, Safe Haven’s executive director.

The 2,200-square-foot expansion will add, among other things, much-needed bedroom space to the Shawano shelter, which was at or over capacity most of last year. Currently, the shelter can house five families in crisis; when it goes over capacity, families are forced to share bedrooms.

Since the emergency shelter opened in 2002, the agency has doubled its personnel and started offering more programming for both shelter and outreach participants. Having outgrown the space, Safe Haven’s board of directors started talking about expanding more than a year ago. To date, 62 percent of the overall $425,000 campaign goal has been reached.

There are five bedrooms in the existing shelter, and they were at capacity (one family per bedroom) or above capacity 189 days or 52 percent of 2017, with a couple of times when 10 families were housed at the shelter.

The shelter was never empty in 2017, according to the statistics, and at least two families were in the shelter 98 percent of the time. Safe Haven provided shelter for 58 women, 52 children and two men, with the average length of stay being 31 days.

The last three months of 2017 were especially crowded, according to Cicero. The shelter was at or over capacity 99 percent of that period, she said, with only one day where there was some elbow room.

“Safe Haven started as an all-volunteer program in the 1980s,” Cicero said. “It incorporated as a nonprofit in 1992 and offered a crisis line and outreach services. At the time, private homes were used for emergency situations until they could be moved to another safe location.

“On Feb. 11, 2002, the shelter opened, and the first family arrived that very day,” Cicero said. “Sixteen years later, we have a need to expand to provide the needed services.”

There were only three full-time staff members handling Safe Haven when Cicero came aboard in 2001. Now, there are 18 staff members, including seven working full time, and office space is at a premium. The expansion is expected to be completed by fall and will include additional offices and confidential rooms where victims of domestic violence can speak with staff members.

“Five hundred one victims of domestic violence and sexual assault crossed our doorstep to receive one-on-one support, attend support groups, get assistance with a restraining order, work with law enforcement or participate in one of our book clubs or art programs,” Cicero said. “We have no space on the first floor to accommodate all of these programs. We need to grow.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher told the staff in attendance that he knew they didn’t provide their services for recognition and fame, but they deserved it nonetheless.

“You’re making this community a safer place to live, and it’s inspiring to see it firsthand,” Gallagher said. “I am struck by how much goodwill there is in this community. This community has been through a lot and, like other communities, has seen its share of challenges — domestic abuse and opioids among them.”

Gallagher called the expansion a testament to Shawano’s good will.

“No matter how big the challenges are in front of us, we can, working together, confront them,” Gallagher said. “I thank God that I’m from a community like this, because it’s easy in D.C. to … spend time cursing the darkness. As someone told us once a while back, ours is not to curse the darkness but to light a candle. I want to thank Safe Haven for lighting that candle.”