Challenges, as well as encouragement, found at overcrowded domestic violence shelter in Muncie

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MUNCIE, Ind.-- (July 6, 2015) - Organizers and employees at A Better Way Domestic Violence Shelter in Muncie are dealing with an overcrowding situation they call both challenging and encouraging.

“It’s a little bit frustrating because we want people to come for help,” said executive director Teresa Clemmons.  “And when they come for help we want to have a comfortable environment so they’re more likely to stay long enough for us to really move them forward and out of the crisis that they’re experiencing.”

The shelter, which houses women and their children who are escaping domestic violence situations, has recently gone over its capacity of 25 people.  To make room, a handful of women are sleeping on cots in common areas of the building.

“Sometimes when you come to a place that’s that crowded, it’s difficult to get your thoughts together and figure out what direction you want to go in,” Clemmons said.

But Clemmons also sees an encouraging sign in the rising numbers.  She believes the increase is partially caused by more women learning where to find help through state-funded domestic violence education and prevention programs.

“When they fund prevention, that raises awareness about services available,” Clemmons said.  “Therefore, more people seek the services.”

More than 30 domestic violence shelters operate throughout Indiana.  Clemmons says nearly all of them are facing similar challenges with space and capacity.  She says the constant struggle is to find the right balance between helping those in need, and having enough space to provide the right atmosphere for healing.  A Better Way also maintains a transitional housing facility and sometimes uses that space when the shelter can’t accommodate anyone else.

Still, Clemmons isn’t calling for new shelters to be opened.  She wants communities to focus on preventing domestic violence instead.  A Better Way runs outreach programs that visit local schools to talk to children about how to handle conflict without resorting to violence.  The shelter also works to teach conflict resolution to the children of domestic violence victims while they are staying in the shelter.

“They learn techniques of how to manage their emotions better,” Clemmons said.  “They see that this isn’t the way it has to be.”

One mother staying at the shelter says she has already noticed the difference in her 5-year-old son, Ronnie.

“His personality is just to where he doesn’t hit anymore,” said the mother, named Kim.  “Because that’s what he’s seen, that’s what he was taught, you know, that it was okay.  And now he knows it’s not okay.”

Kim says she recently took Ronnie away from their home because of drug use that led to verbal and physical violence against them.  At first, she says she was scared to leave Ronnie’s father.  But after coming to stay at A Better Way, she knows she made the right decision.

“I was trying to get him to have a normal life,” Kim said.  “About as normal as I can get him.  It’s great.  We have hope.”

Clemens doesn’t know if A Better Way will eventually need to expand or open a new facility.  For now, she hopes prevention and breaking the cycle of domestic violence in children will outpace the need for more shelter space in the future.

“It could be overwhelming,” Clemmons said.  “But the good news is we often see people whose lives are turned around in a very short period of time.”

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