By Beth Fitzpatrick of The Center for Family Justice
Last year, The Center for Family Justice began an ambitious campaign to open an expanded, state-of-the-art safe house for the hundreds of domestic violence clients it serves each year in need of transitional housing. This safe house will provide shelter to domestic violence victims from the six communities the nonprofit serves in our region including Monroe, Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Stratford and Trumbull.
Known as the Empower House project, CFJ plans to open its new safe residence later this fall.
The timing for opening this expansive new residence could not be more urgent. Since the Covid-19 pandemic first impacted our region in March 2020 CFJ has experienced a 25 percent increase in domestic violence clients. In addition, it’s existing domestic violence safe house has been at capacity for most of two years. Subsequently, CFJ has spent tens of thousands of dollars housing victims in need of shelter in hotels, with these costs increasing at one point by more than 1,400 percent.
“What we are coping with in our region is really a shadow pandemic of domestic violence,” explains Debra A. Greenwood, President & CEO of The Center for Family Justice, which provides crisis and supportive services to victims of domestic and sexual violence in six local communities, including Monroe. “Building this new safe house will help us address a shortage of shelter for domestic violence victims in our area.”
From its new confidential location, the Empower House will provide domestic violence victims and their children with an ultra-safe environment in which to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of abuse. Besides giving CFJ the ability to securely house more victims in one safe place, the residence will also enable its team to address some of the most immediate needs victims face after making the brave decision to leave an abusive relationship.
Each room and every amenity at the 9,000 square foot Empower House has been designed with the comforts of trauma survivors in mind. It will provide rooms for up to 16 people to temporarily live in with generously proportioned family-style suites with private baths. There will be lots of elbow room for diners in its large communal kitchen. Children will have places to play inside and outside the building. The home will also be appointed with a fully equipped computer room, perfect for kids’ homework time or parents who need a quiet space for work or personal projects. There will also be a large meeting room where CFJ can host support group meetings on site.
And because no one should have to choose between their personal safety and their pets, the Empower House will offer a safe kennel so guests can move in with their pets. Many domestic violence victims report that they are forced to leave beloved pets behind when they leave their abusers because animals are not typically allowed in most safe homes.
“Our goal, from the inception of this project, has been to create a place that truly feels like home for our clients,” said Greenwood. “Our dream is to make this place a model for how all domestic violence safe houses should be. Whether it’s by allowing our clients to bring their pets with them or just being able to read a story to their kids in their own rooms, our safe house is intended to make them feel supported from the minute they walk through the door.”
Greenwood noted CFJ is incredibly grateful for the support it has received from community members who have made financial contributions to the ongoing Empower House capital campaign.
Chaired by CFJ volunteers Alan and Patti Masarek of Milford, the campaign has an ambitious goal of raising $3.5 to make the Empower House fully operational. The majority of the $2.8 million in funds already donated to the campaign have been raised through private contributions, community organizations and foundations.
Last year, Alan Masarek rode his bike more than 3,000 miles from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine in support of Empower House helping to raise several hundred thousand dollars for the project.
CFJ has retained the New Haven architecture firm of Wayne S. Garrick Associates to design the Empower House. It plans to hire a builder for the extensive renovations the residence will require later this spring.
There are many ways community members and business leaders can get involved in supporting the Empower House. To learn more, visit EmpowerHouseproject.org or contact Debra Greenwood at DGreenwood@CenterforFamilyJustice.org