Entering a domestic violence shelter an action of 'last resort'

By Greg Miller
STAR Staff

   ERWIN -- When a man or woman enters a shelter for victims of domestic violence, it is an action of last resort for the person, according to Jean LaCoss, Director of Change is Possible (CHIPs).
   "A shelter is for someone who is in eminent danger from an abuser," LaCoss remarked. "A lot of women have families or friends to stay with; a shelter is a last resort."
   The basic purpose of CHIPs is to provide safe shelter for women or men in danger. In addition to the shelter, CHIPs provides other services.
   "You don't have to be a shelter client for us to assist in helping you. It could be assisting with legal aid or going with someone to court. We have counseling, support groups, whatever someone's needs may be," LaCoss said. 
   CHIPs opened 11 years ago and has assisted about 1,000 people per year over the last two years.
   "Those are not all shelter clients. They are clients we have served in other ways, such as referrals. We also have a crisis hotline that's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it might just be a crisis hotline call where someone needs to talk," said LaCoss.
   CHIPs can house approximately 10 women and children. If a man needs to stay in a shelter, the facility makes arrangements through local hotels, etc., for housing.
   "I don't know if there are coed facilities, particularly dealing with domestic violence. We can't have a gentleman in the shelter then take a female into the facility at 3 o'clock in the morning, but we do have to be able to provide the same types of services for him, at the same level that we would for anyone else, to keep him safe," she said.
   Calls from men asking for assistance come in at the rate of about one per month, according to LaCoss. "I believe there were 845,000 men abused in the United States last year. It's a lot more than most people think it would be."
   Domestic violence is also not always manifested in a physical manner.
   "You can be in a domestic violence situation and it not be physical," she remarked. "It can be emotional or financial. By that, I mean, if you place a woman in fear, and, if you control her through fear or through degradation, that is domestic violence as well. If you isolate her from her family or her friends; if you are making that person feel less than human, that's domestic violence as well. It's not just physical abuse."
   Domestic violence is also a type of terrorism. "There's a lot of terror in domestic violence. The bottom line is 65 percent of the women who are murdered are murdered when they are attempting to leave the abuser. It's a very dangerous time."  
   Children are severely affected from being exposed to abuse within the home because they see what is happening, which oftentimes perpetuates the cycle.
   "A child who has grown up in a home with physical domestic violence is a thousand times more likely to become an abuser," LaCoss said.  
   Domestic violence involving teenagers is increasing, according to Darlene Williams, Court Advocate for the clients. "Teenagers now, both girls and boys, are victims of domestic violence," she said. "They are boyfriends and girlfriends, where the boyfriend is abusing the girlfriend, or vice versa."
   Proceeds from the CHIP's Thrift Store go to provide services for clients. "We also get private donations," LaCoss said. "We receive money from the United Way, the town of Unicoi, the town of Erwin, and Unicoi County. We're funded mainly from grants from the Office of Criminal Justice Programs of Tennessee."
   CHIP's receives more calls from Carter County for service than from Greene and Unicoi counties -the other two counties in the organization's service area - according to LaCoss.
   As of yet, CHIP's does not have a Web site, but is using media such as radio and newspapers to inform the public about the organization's services.
   For more information, call 743-0022.