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Displaying items by tag: Amanda Shelburne
Hope in Their Darkest Hours: Wellspring Provides Substantial Services for a Prevalent Crime
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Domestic violence is the number two violent crime in Saratoga County, the primary cause of family homelessness, and one of the top two causes of homicide. In fact, from 2010 to 2013, 100 percent of homicides in Saratoga County were because of domestic violence.
According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in seven men will be the victim of domestic violence at some point in their life. As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is key to look at the statistics and learn about how domestic abuse affects our loved ones, our society and even ourselves.
Wellspring is a fully comprehensive relationship and sexual abuse service for Saratoga County. Previously called Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services for Saratoga County (DVRC), Wellspring helps victims of domestic violence, while simultaneously providing prevention education for the community.
“We have so many services that can help people before a crisis and that can avert a crisis,” said Maggie Fronk, the Executive Director of Wellspring for the past 14 years. “With our other name, it said “crisis” so many people didn’t think they could come in until after the crisis. Wellspring is really promoting all of the things we do to help people be safe, and ultimately, avoid that crisis.”
The vision for Wellspring is a Saratoga County free of abuse, and awareness is vital to that vision. Domestic violence is more prevalent in the community than anyone realizes, and it’s much more than physical abuse. Domestic violence can manifest as emotional abuse, sexual abuse, isolation, economic abuse and psychological abuse. These many forms of domestic violence often occur together.
“I think one of the biggest myths is that domestic violence is only physical. It can be, yet there can be highly abusive relationships that have no physical abuse at all,” said Fronk.
A stereotype exists that domestic violence only happens to certain people. In reality, all socio-economic groups, all races, all religions and all genders are affected by domestic violence. According to Fronk, this stereotype may exist because domestic violence is a crime that happens in the home, outside of public view.
It is never easy to make the first step in reaching out for help, but Wellspring tries to make it uncomplicated and nonintimidating.
“Just call and make an appointment, or if need be, just walk in the door. All our services are free and confidential,” said Fronk. “We respond to what your needs are. One person might come in and be ready to leave the abuse, go to a shelter and get an order of protection. Another person may just want to talk about what’s happening and find out if it is an abusive relationship. It is driven by the needs of whoever is walking in our door for help.”
Helping over 1,000 people per year, Wellspring prioritizes what each individual needs and wants at that time, acknowledging that it is different for everyone. No one is going to be rushed to leave their abuser or pressured into steps they are not ready for. The only commonality for everyone is that they are going to be talked to about safety options, so they can be safe with whatever choice they make. There will be customized, individualized safety planning for anyone who comes into Wellspring.
One anonymous survivor who has been helped by Wellspring said, “[Wellspring] supported me and helped me when I was going through a very tough moment in my life. They were there for me when I needed someone to talk to, to advise me how to get help, supporting me during the court days. The staff was also always nice and helpful with my son. They made our stay as easy as possible. They supported us with summer camp for day care when I could not afford it so I could keep working.”
The array of services Wellsprings provides is vast. Whether someone needs counseling, legal counseling or case management, the resources are available. There are even advocates that can accompany victims to the police or to court.
Financial security is a terrifying thought for many who want to leave a violent relationship. Victims are afraid they won’t be able to support themselves and their children after leaving their abuser. Wellspring offers an eight-week financial literacy program that covers everything from knowing your assets and rights with money, to budgeting, to getting a job and growing in that career. It also helps people apply for public assistance, such as SNAP, for temporarily relief during a difficult period to get survivors back on their feet.
Wellspring has shelter and housing opportunities readily accessible. The shelter is in an undisclosed location in the county, ensuring safety and privacy.
“Some people might be coming in [to the shelter] for a few days, letting things settle down at home. Other times, they might be ready to totally change their life and have no idea where to start. Either one of those is fine,” explained Fronk. It is important to note that children and parents stay together in the shelter.
If victims still need help with housing after leaving a shelter, there is an affordable housing program with subsidized rent and support services.
Shelter is not only provided for people, either. Pets are often used as tools of coercion and control, keeping victims trapped in abusive situations. Abusers may threaten to harm or kill pets if the victim tries to leave. In turn, Wellspring developed the Safe Pet Partnership, which provides loving foster homes for all pets while a victim goes into a shelter and receives the help they need. When they are ready, families are then reunited with their pets. This program has fostered hamsters, fish, cats, dogs, and even horses, taking away the worry about pet safety when escaping domestic violence.
While Wellspring deals directly with healing and supporting victims of abuse, as well as their family, friends and pets, they are very much involved in preventing domestic violence in the first place. Wellspring’s awareness programs visit local schools, businesses and community organizations to teach about domestic violence, including what to look for and what to do if you think you or a friend may be a victim. An emphasis is put on being an active bystander, saying or doing something about it when you see violence happening.
“When you start at the high school level, you can stop this behavior from progressing into adulthood and escalating. The point is to get ahead of this,” said Fronk.
Wellspring makes getting help comfortable, inviting and shame-free. By providing a wide range of awareness, education and victim services, they are making help for domestic violence more accessible to everyone. Fronk says it perfectly: “You are not alone in this.”
If you or a loved one is a victim of domestic violence, or even suspects abuse, call Wellspring’s 24-hour hotline at 518-584-8188. Wellspring is located at 480 Broadway, downstairs in the Collamer building, next door to City Hall. For more information or to donate to Wellspring, visit Wellspringcares.org.
Homeless in Saratoga County
First in a three-part series exploring solutions.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Over the last few weeks, mingled with discussions about street performers and their impact – positive and negative – on business in downtown Saratoga Springs, many questions arose about the impact of the homeless population as well, especially vagrants who would block doorways or panhandle near business establishment entryways.
Gregory Veitch, chief of the Saratoga Springs Police Department, has been working with service providers and local businesses regularly. He understands the concerns of the business community, and recently spoke at the Saratoga Springs City Council on the subject, where he assured members and attendees that the department will uphold the law while honoring people’s Constitutional rights.
“You can’t arrest your way out of a homeless or vagrancy issue,” he said in a telephone interview. “We can arrest for criminal behavior, like lewdness or public urination, but we can’t arrest people for being homeless.”
Recognizing the complexity of the issue, the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association (DBA) invited homelessness service providers to speak at its general meeting on May 20, chaired by Tim Holmes, proprietor of Wheatfields Restaurant and president of the DBA. The topic was so well-received that anticipated attendance forced a venue change from Hattie’s Restaurant to a larger space in Northshire Bookstore.
Mike Finocchi, Executive Director of Shelters of Saratoga, Maggie Fronk, Executive Director of Wellspring, and Jamie Williams, Associate Director of the Franklin Community Center all answered questions and gave an overview of the situation and services available to the homeless population in Saratoga County.
“It was very well attended,” said Fronk. “At least 60 people were there. Although the impetus of the meeting was vagrancy, the tone of the meeting was very much about what is being done now and what can businesses do to help with solutions. There has never been a doubt about the compassion and community investment of our community leaders. Code Blue could not exist without businesses providing dinners and other fundraisers.”
Code Blue Saratoga Springs is an emergency shelter serving homeless people who might otherwise remain unsheltered during periods of extreme winter weather. Wellspring, formerly Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County, offers crisis intervention and survivor services support to more than 1,000 clients annually, providing safe housing to adults and children either fleeing or homeless because of domestic violence, as well as comprehensive support in the form of counseling, legal advocacy, and case management.
“Domestic violence is the primary cause of family homelessness,” said Fronk. “Vagrancy is such a small proportion of the homeless population, yet they have been causing difficulties. It’s hard when homelessness impacts a business’s bottom line. I champion the idea of nonprofits and businesses getting together to build bridges toward solutions.”
Todd Shimkus, CCE, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, arrived at the May 20 meeting with a tangible idea to help both businesses and the homeless population: the new Saratoga Cares Card, which began from a conversation Shimkus had with Heidi Owen-West of Lifestyles of Saratoga six days earlier about a meeting she had with Mayor Joanne Yepsen and several nonprofit organizations the previous day.
“The idea for the Saratoga Cares Card came from that conversation, and Anita Paley, Executive Director at Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council, took the lead,” said Shimkus. “To help Anita, I reached out and offered to get it printed and distributed at no cost to EOC. She sent me the information they had compiled. Christianne Smith of Designsmith Studio volunteered to create the card. She worked with Camelot Printing to get the first 1,000 printed within about 12 hours, so that we could distribute them at the DBA meeting on Wednesday.”
They printed and distributed 1,000 cards last week and plan to distribute another 5,000 this week. The information on the cards was provided by local social services agencies, who recommend that the best way the community can help those in need is to get them in contact with the range of agencies who are here to help them.
“That really is the purpose of the card,” said Shimkus. “Each of the agencies listed has a proven track record of really making a positive difference in the lives of those who come to them for support and assistance.” Businesses can hand the cards to members of the homeless population or to their customers, encouraging them to hand the cards instead of money to panhandlers.
Several ideas were discussed at the meeting, but the take-away for most businesses was the realization that there are foundational support systems available in the community that are too few to address the growing numbers of the homeless locally.
Finocchi of Shelters of Saratoga, 14 Walworth St, Saratoga Springs, said that last year, according to Code Blue, more than 400 people were assisted through the bitter cold winter, almost twice the number of the year before.
“The homeless community is a strong community,” said Finocchi. “They look out for each other, and this winter was so harsh that the ones utilizing Code Blue got to their friends and told them to get inside. Word of mouth got them indoors and saved lives. There was so much snow they couldn’t even pitch a tent. ”
There were many suggestions and ideas discussed at the meeting, everything from more foot patrols to expanding available services. Finocchi brought up the Friendship House that closed a couple years ago.
“There’s nothing for the homeless population to do during the day,” he said, “With Friendship House gone, they have nowhere to go but downtown.” The facility was open during business hours offering services to the homeless, such as case management, clothes, and basic daily needs.
“There’s a drop-in center in Schenectady that is making a world of difference - Bethesda House,” said Finocchi. “That’s what we need here – a drop-in center. Friendship house kind of did it, but we need a full center.”
According to Maddy Zanetti, vice president of DBA and principle of Impressions of Saratoga, the constructive conversations from the meeting will be ongoing.
“I think everyone who came left with a positive outlook knowing that the Chamber and DBA are working in concert with service providers and with City officials,” said Zanetti.
Fronk agrees. “Before now, all these discussions have been ‘siloed’ meetings, involving just providers or just businesses,” she said. “This is the first time that I’m aware of that we built a bridge between those silos, which will lead to more collaboration and information sharing.”
Zanetti added that attendees also gained a better sense of how hard it is for services to get the funds they need to meet the growing demand and that everyone needs to pull together.
“Nobody asks to be homeless,” said Finocchi. “We’re all just one paycheck away from it.”