By Sen. Roy Dyson

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On Thursday, July 22, I attended the dedication of the addition to Safe Harbor, the shelter for abused persons in Calvert County. I was very impressed with the ceremony, attended by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and many Calvert County officials. I also was impressed with the dedication of the volunteers and staff of the Prince Frederick facility.

Funding for the expansion came from, Calvert County,  the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Maryland departments of Housing and Community Development and  Human Resources. Furnishings were donated by individuals and businesses through an "Adopt-a-Room" program. It was heartwarming to see the tremendous community effort to put the nice finishing touches on the expansion project..

As I was driving back from the dedication I got to thinking about the problem of spousal abuse. What a tragedy it is that relationships started with such joy and hope can deteriorate to circumstances in which one of the parties literally has to flee in order to be safe. Is the increase in need for such facilities a product of our times? Or our we seeing a negative side effect of the growth which is occurring here in Southern Maryland. Or was the problem always with us, even when the community was entirely rural, but was kept quiet because that wasn't what people talked about.

Whatever the reason, I am glad we have safe harbors such as Safe Harbor. Calvert County Commissioner Linda Kelley, who is president of the Safe Harbor board of directors, wrote in the dedication program: "Today's celebration is both a joyful and sobering one. Joyful because we are able to provide the shelter needed to keep women and children safe from domestic violence and the daily intimidation and threat of recurring harm. Sobering because experience has shown us that we need additional space to house the victims of domestic violence in Calvert County,"

The original shelter building, formerly Central School, opened in January of 1993. Since then 374 clients have found safety in the building, including 161 women and 213 children. That's a large number of people for a relatively small county such as Calvert. The original building was designed to house 12 individuals, Yet during peak time there have been as many as 20 persons living there temporarily, underscoring the need for an expansion.  No matter what the reason we can't deny there is a problem.

St. Mary's County does not have it's own abused persons shelter. But Walden/Sierra counseling center provides transitional housing for abused persons in motels and safe houses. Additionally the region is served by the shelter in Hughesville run by Catholic Charities. According to director Linda Cooney the facility has 51 beds, of which 12 are designed for more long-term housing and the remainder are for emergency shelter. The facility usually has a waiting list. In Fiscal Year 1997, 22 clients from Charles County were given housing in the shelter in the long-term wing. Many Calvert and St. Mary's residents were given temporary shelter on a space available basis.

I earlier asked the question of why we are seeing the increased need for "safe harbors." I think, on reflection, it's a combination of factors. Our society is different with two wage-earner families the rule and financial pressures great. We live in a society where examples abound of violent reactions to perceived problems.

Of course those are factors which are affecting every community in the country. On top of that we are getting more people with the increased job opportunities and commuters. With more people automatically come more people with problems such as spousal abuse. Many of the professional people coming to work in Southern Maryland are in high stress, extremely demanding jobs. Unfortunately sometimes that stress spills over into the home.

We can't stick our head in the sand on this problem as perhaps generations in the past have done. The societal problem won't go away. And, individual problems won't go away by simply being ignored or denied. They just become delayed until they sometimes lead to tragic, violent endings.

In whatever form, we need safe harbors in our Southern Maryland community. We are lucky to have the people with foresight and dedication to have worked tirelessly so that those in need have such places to go. We should support them now and into the future.


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