GRANITE CITY — To those who seek its services, the Phoenix Crisis Center is an invaluable resource, just as it has been for 30 years.
Since opening its doors in 1985, the women’s domestic violence shelter has assisted hundreds of women, children and other family members affected by relationship violence.
In early November, the center will hold a community outreach event to commemorate its 30th anniversary. Executive Director Debbie Sander said the center offers services in three main areas — safe housing, counseling and legal advocacy. In terms of legal advocates, the center employees “guide survivors” through the legal processes of protection orders, divorce and child custody cases.
“We are not just a business in Granite City,” Sander said. “We provide services to those who need it in both Madison and Bond counties.”
Phoenix Crisis Center was founded by the late Carol Chiappa of Granite City. Although in recent years the center has received grant funding on the state level, that has not always been the case. The center relied heavily on community support in the early days, and that need continues today. The center receives support from the United Way and corporate support as well, but has received little to no funding from the state this year. Local churches, businesses and individuals donate goods and money to help keep the center going.
Sander said this is a 24-hour-a-day shelter at a confidential location. Given the nature of the situations for which women seek assistance, the location is kept secret for the survivor’s safety and for the safety of other clients.
According to Sander, the public’s view on domestic violence is skewed. She says people often speak in ways that tend to blame the victim.
“People tend to say things like ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ instead of asking the more important question, ‘Why is he doing this (abusing) in the first place?’” Sander said.
Women and girls who are abused at home can utilize the center as a place to take a “time out”; to pause a moment and think about their situation and about the best way to get out safely. More often than not, the decision can take weeks or months of planning.
“The goal is to get women and their children out of the chaos long enough to start planning steps to get them to safety permanently,” Sander said. “In safety planning, these women are preparing to leave and some must first get their financial affairs in order and obtain legal documents, which can take some time.”
There is room for about 19 people to stay in the shelter at any given time, which includes children. Services also are available to non-residents. An experienced therapist who has worked at the center for 14 years can offer counseling for victims free of charge. All services at the center are free, but clients are expected to help pay for and prepare shared meals and complete a set of chores daily to maintain the home.
“We provide our survivors with free educational groups that teach life skills, economics, self-improvement, legal help and safety tips,” Sander said. “We are in an empowering position for these clients because we’re helping them to do things for themselves sometimes, for the first time in their lives.”
Some survivors, Sander said, have no idea how to take care of things themselves such as cooking, cleaning or paying bills. The victims of domestic violence are often sheltered and the abuser will take steps to make sure they are in control of every detail of their victims’ lives, leaving them feeling powerless.
“We’re not handing ‘out’; we’re handing ‘up’,” Sander said. “We teach them life skills, but don’t do things for them — they have to follow through with steps to safety and we just help them to be accountable.”
The center will help women and children with after-care as well once they are ready to move on from the shelter. For services the client needs, the center offers referrals for things it does not handle such as long-term housing, drug counseling, mental health care and child behavior issues.
“The most dangerous time for a person who is in an abusive relationship is when she is trying to leave,” Sander said. “On average, it takes seven times for a person to get out of a domestic violence situation.”
It might take several tries before people actually have courage to leave their situation, but when they do, Sander said she gets to see a real growth in many clients, which makes her very happy.
According to the nonprofit group Partnership Against Domestic Violence, every 9 seconds a woman in the United States is beaten. This is a staggering statistic and the center wants people in the area to know there is help available.
If you would like to help support Phoenix Crisis Center, there are a variety of ways to do so. You may send a check to P.O. Box 345, Granite City, IL 62040. It also accepts donations for personal items at the off-site donation center, Custom Forms and Copies in Granite City. Items most needed include toilet paper, dishwashing detergent, bathroom cleaning supplies and personal care items. You may also donate spare change on Monday, Aug. 31, at the donation site, 1843 Madison Ave. The center needs to update the security system and is asking for the support of the community. Sander said if you feel moved to help their cause, all you need to do is hold onto your spare change from now until the end of August.
The center is available 24 hours a day to assist victims of domestic violence. If you or someone you know needs help, call (618) 451-1118. If you would like to volunteer or help the advocates of the center, call for instructions on what you can do to help.