Ending the cycle of domestic abuse
Southwest Safehouse and Alternative Horizons offer shelter, support

An incident of domestic violence occurs every 15 seconds somewhere in the United States, according to the FBI, and La Plata County contributes to this problem.

“Basically, domestic violence happens on all socio-economic levels – it happens to everybody,” said Roseann Kutzleb, executive director of Alternative Horizons, a Durango-based nonprofit that offers a 24-hour domestic abuse hotline. “It isn’t just an ethnic or economic group...it’s not just poor people,” Kutzleb said.

Among other services, Alternative Horizons, also offers legal representation for divorce and child-custody cases and gives free ongoing support and therapy. In 2002, Alernative Horizons answered 1,755 calls and served 648 people with the help of 50 volunteers. Nevertheless, Kutzleb said the call-load is unpredictable, ranging from a two-year high of 226 calls in June to virtually no calls in recent months.

“We’ve been all over the board,” she said.

The hotline, which is staffed by volunteers, offers a list of resources to callers, including the Southwest Safehouse, she said.

“We’re in constant contact with the safehouse and have been since 1985,” Kutzleb said.

Run by the Volunteers of America, the safehouse is a temporary shelter for women and children who seek protection from violence at home.

It opened its doors in 1985 after a report showed that Southwest Colorado had some of the highest numbers of domestic violence of any rural region in Colorado, according to John Gamble, director of the safehouse. Gamble added that prior to the mid-1980s, “beating your wife really didn’t have the status of a crime.”

“It was a feminist movement,” he said. “It was women starting to say, ‘We’re going to take care of women.’”

The safehouse, with its secret location, offers women and children in need of emergency shelter a safe place to stay as well as access to resources like permanent housing, education and health care.

Before the safehouse opened, Alternative Horizons offered emergency shelter – sometimes in hotels or the homes of volunteers – for one to three nights. Now, the average stay in the safehouse is four weeks. In 2002, the safehouse housed more than 700 people, 150 of them children. It can comfortably house 20 people a night, but no one is ever turned away.

“It may mean pulling out cots and hide-a-beds and housing people in the living room, but we think that’s better than saying, ‘Sorry Charlotte – there’s no room at the inn,’” he said.

Despite the service it provides, the safehouse initially met some resistance in the community, Gamble said.

“When I started, the litany was, ‘So what – are you in the business of breaking up marriages?’” Gamble said. “I’d answer, ‘No, we’re not smart enough to tell another human being how to run their life. Our business is how to get violence out of families.’”

These days, it’s another story. Gamble said the community is supportive of the safehouse and the people it serves. For example, the Humane Society houses pets

Roseann Kutzleb, executive director
of Alternative Horizons/Photo by Todd Newcomer

while women stay at the safehouse, the VOA Thrift Store provides clothing vouchers, a La Plata Electric Round Up grant recently helped the safehouse buy school supplies for kids living there, and 9-R teachers extend extra understanding to safehouse students who may be “acting out” because of their recent experience, Gamble said. Local dentists have even provided free dental care for residents, one of the biggest needs of safehouse visitors, at Gamble’s behest.

“I’m a dangerous man to know because I call people,” Gamble said. “We do what we do, but we couldn’t do it half as well without the whole town pitching in.”

Law enforcement also is helpful if a woman at the safehouse breaks the one hard-and-fast rule: keeping the safehouse location confidential. Although a woman who breaks confidentiality will have to move out and never come back, some women do it anyway, Gamble said.

“It’s called a red dot – it means you’re never welcome,” Gamble said, explaining that revealing the location to an abusive partner puts staff and residents of the safehouse in danger.

But, he added, “If there’s a problem at the safehouse, there’s help (from the police) fast.”

A listening ear

Cassandra Papp, a volunteer at Alternative Horizons, said she has picked up several women and driven them to the safehouse or to meet safehouse employees.

“It felt great to know that I was securing their physical safety at the moment – it was gratifying for both of us,” Papp said.

She said her best experience as a volunteer is meeting women face to face, listening to what they have to say, and then leaving after the women formed their own decision about what to do next.

On an average night, 14 people stay at the Volunteers of America Southwest
Safehouse and half of them are children./Photo courtesy Southwest Safehouse

“It’s really about listening skills and really hearing what they’re saying,” Papp said. “The anticipation of receiving a call was nerve wracking (when I started), but once I heard the victim’s voice on the other end, I knew it was worth it.”

Kutzleb said that friends and family of women or men who might be in an abusive relationship also should practice their listening skills.

“If you have a friend or family member in that situation, don’t take it upon yourself to suggest they leave,” Kutzleb said, adding that violence increases 75 percent when the person does leave the relationship.

Kutzleb stressed that the hotline is completely confidential, so no one should hesitate to call it – including men. She said there are male advocates to assist men who have been battered, though she said 90 to 95 percent of domestic violence occurs against women.

“Making that first call is the hardest call to make, but after you do, the doors that open are endless,” Kutzleb said. “There’s a wealth of resources in this community...a very caring community with a lot of different services to help. If you want a kind, compassionate ear to talk to, call.”

And above all, the message to people who find themselves in a violent relationship is: “You are too important and valuable a human being to be subjected to violence,” Gamble said.






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