A dozen suspicious or violent gun deaths over eight days is beyond disturbing.
Folks shake their heads while asking “What’s happening in our town?” Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams, in an effort to allay fear, reminds an unsettled community that the deaths weren’t random. In most cases, victims and suspects knew each other and it was a “tragic set of coincidences that all of these things happened within a relatively short amount of time.”
But when at least seven deaths appear tied to domestic violence, that should scare us most of all. It means we can’t ignore the fact that Springfield has the highest rate of domestic violence incidents per capita among all Missouri cities. The highest rate.
Because, although Springfield crime rates overall are down, reported aggravated assault increased by 7 percent in 2014 and of that, 52 percent were domestic. That is not a statistic we want attached to our good community, and we all have a stake in making it safer for everyone. That domestic violence is happening to so many of our local women and children — and yes, to some men — makes it a community health problem that won’t heal if we ignore it, if we don’t ramp up efforts to help more victims and change the culture.
That’s where Harmony House comes in. It’s the only area emergency shelter organization for women and children who are victims of abuse and, to be blunt, the organization just can’t keep up with the need, through no fault of its own.
A big way to help more families is to move Harmony House into a larger structure that could serve more victims — a building that’s not 90 years old with crumbling infrastructure and small cramped bathrooms serving up to eight women at a time.
That’s the dream, said Lisa Farmer, executive director for Harmony House, along with funding to help more abuse victims establish a new place to live after leaving the shelter with the first month’s rent and utility deposits. “When someone comes into the shelter, they don’t have other support. They don’t have family or friends who can help them,” she said. And more funds for programs to educate children and preteens about healthy boundaries would help break the cycle.
But serving more victims through a bigger shelter is imperative. Here’s the good news: They found a building!
It has great potential and would increase serving about 30 more people a night, Farmer said. But to secure it they need help, and fast.
“We need that lead gift … and from there we would have to raise additional funds to do the renovation and make it safe and secure,” she said.
We hope someone comes forward to make it happen. There are people in this community with the means to help secure that building, an important first step to helping more victims.
Farmer doesn’t know if victims of the recent gun violence were women who sought help through the 110-bed shelter but were turned away. But she knows in 2013, more than 1,600 were turned away for lack of space. In 2014 — indicative of the soaring local domestic violence rates — that number went up 30 percent, said Farmer. The shelter also averages about seven calls a day from people seeking shelter or resources.
Harmony House doesn’t have hard figures for the total cost of a bigger shelter, but it will take a few million before it’s move-in ready.
This is where the community comes in. Helping Harmony House through donations of funds and goods, and by acknowledging we have a problem to solve together, is taking action. It’s taking back our community.
We must send a big message to abusers: You will not be tolerated.
And to victims of assault: We see you. We’ll help you. You aren’t alone.
This editorial is the view
of the News-Leader Editorial Board
Daniel Norselli President and Publisher
Linda Ramey-Greiwe Director of Sales
Paul Berry Executive Editor
Cheryl Whitsitt Managing Editor
Sony Hocklander Engagement Editor
How to help through Harmony House
•Donate funds for services: Visit https://www.myharmonyhouse.org/ to donate online, or call 837-7700. A majority of your donation goes directly to services for women and children living in the shelter.
•Donate toward a bigger shelter. Call 837-7700 to make arrangements.
•Donate goods: Harmony House needs everything a typical household needs: Cleaning supplies, paper goods (particularly toilet paper); food; toiletries for residents; children’s art supplies, books and toys; and more. They also take donations of clothing and household items to help victims of abuse set up new households once they leave the shelter. Find a list of urgent needs online. Call or email firstname.lastname@example.org.