Loudoun women's shelter asks for help finding new home

By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 6, 2009

When the 15-bed Loudoun Abused Women's Shelter opened in 1985 to assist domestic violence victims, Loudon County had about 75,000 people.

The 1,500-square-foot shelter north of Leesburg now serves a county of more than 300,000. On Tuesday, the volunteer board of directors began making a plea for someone to donate land or a house for a new shelter.

"The good things have grown, and the bad things have grown," said Sue Curtis, the shelter's executive director, who was there in the early years.

The shelter can only hold three or four families, because most women come with more than one child. The private, nonprofit agency -- which offers a variety of services -- has nine full-time employees and a budget of $1.1 million. Last year, 41 women and 45 children stayed in the shelter.

With the increased demand for its services, some women are turned away from the shelter. Sometimes, domestic violence victims with nowhere else to go are sent to hotels. But one of the advantages of having women at the shelter, Curtis said, is that they can get help from a night counselor.

Because of the limited space, the shelter serves only women who are in imminent danger if they don't get a place to stay, Curtis said.

Curtis, 66, works from the organization's headquarters, near the county building.

Former developer Bill Berry, 75, of Leesburg got involved with the shelter's board of directors after he helped renovate the facility about six years ago. Active with HomeAid, an industry association group, Berry said he is hoping a business or a developer might make the necessary donation.

"We can dream," Berry said. "Maybe you can help our dream come true."

The organization wants to get the land for the shelter so supporters can begin raising the $500,000 to $700,000 that engineers say they need. The shelter finished paying back the loans for its current location just last year.

The culture surrounding domestic violence has transformed over the past two decades, Curtis said. Shelters receiver more grants and subsidies than they did 25 years ago. New laws helped shelters more easily offer legal advice to women.

The Domestic Abuse Response Team coordinates the response when battered women seek help from the shelter. The team works closely with law enforcement officials and social workers. When the team started six years ago, 30 people in Loudoun County were on probation for domestic violence, Curtis said. Now, it's more than 300.

Architects have sketched preliminary plans for what a building with twice the current capacity might look like, but board members said they're very flexible about what kind of space they would accept. Ideally, they could build on two acres and be close to public transportation.

Ami Neiberger, 38, of Countryside, in eastern Loudoun, is also on the board of directors.

"We've done the best we can with the building we have," she said. "At a certain point, you do all you can for a building."

Anyone interested in helping the shelter find a new home is asked to call Curtis at 703-771-3398.

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