Voices of Stephenson County to open onsite emergency living shelter for abuse victims

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STEPHENSON COUNTY, Ill. (WTVO) — Since the outbreak of COVID-19, local police agencies say all types of violence against women and children have intensified.

A local shelter hopes to address those growing figures. The executive director at Voices of Stephenson County says they have seen more people coming to them for help since the pandemic began.

“We’ve also seen a significant increase in the severity of violence in our community, more strangulations and really again going back to the need of having a place to go,” said executive director Beth Maskell.

With the closest domestic violence shelter nearly 40 miles away, Voices of Stephenson County is doing something to change that.

“In late summer, we are going to open an onsite emergency shelter for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. We hope to house roughly about 20 to 25 individuals,” said Maskell.

Maskell says one of the main barriers to leaving violent situations is having no long-term place to stay.

“Prior to this, we have provided emergency shelter via local hotels and motels for safety.”

Which is something Prevention Coordinator Ciarra Ardson is excited to see change.

“To have something in their immediate place where they’re seeking services from, it will definitely make a big difference for them,” said Ardson.

That’s why the facility plans to have five individual bedrooms with bathrooms as well as a kitchen, living room, and outdoor seating with a spacious yard. The organization has even gone the extra step to make the facility dog-friendly.

“It’s kind of like being at home yet while they’re getting themselves ready to hopefully be back out,” said Ardson.

Maskell says anyone who needs support from sexual or domestic violence can reach out for help.

“You know we will support any survivors, so those could be single individuals, that can be a family, that can be men, women, children with a parent.”

Now, Maskell says they need the community’s help to break the stigma and spread the word of available support services.

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