Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TOP STORY >> Shelter’s needs voiced

Leader staff writer

Nicole Begley, executive director of the Lonoke County Safe Haven shelter for domestic violence victims, introduced herself to the Austin City Council on Monday and spoke about the nonprofit’s needs. The shelter’s location is undisclosed to protect its residents.

Begley, hired in January to manage the shelter, said the nonprofit “has been doing a lot of work on getting out in the community” and increasing awareness.

She also announced that she would host the next training for shelter volunteers at 6 p.m. Sunday at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Cabot. The director said she would also be willing to host training at a church in Austin if asked.

Begley explained that she is running the shelter with a staff of four. That is why recruiting volunteers is its focus. The nonprofit is also seeking additional funding to hire more staff.

Safe Haven has launched a 1001 Good Samaritan Campaign. Its goal is to convince at least 1,001 people to donate $10 a month.

The shelter needs people to work one-on-one with the women, to teach them life skills, the director continued. Volunteers are also needed to transport them because many come without vehicles.

The women are required to attend appointments to receive benefits like SNAP (food stamps), Begley explained.

She gave an overview of the shelter, too. Begley said it can house 16 women or 18 if some of the residents are their kids. Two beds are empty, and the shelter has been that full since the middle of July, she noted.

Alderman Matt Sheets asked how the shelter is funded. Begley said the nonprofit receives federal grants, donations from area churches and financial support from the city of Austin and other towns.

Sheets also asked if the shelter offered volunteer work that was not one-on-one with the residents. He sponsors the Key Club and said youth involved in it are always looking for opportunities to be of service.

Begley said the youth could sort donated items and help re-open Safe Haven’s Cabot thrift store by staffing it. The store has been closed since last fall.

Begley added that there are some issues with the building, like black mold in the bathroom, that county officials might be able to help her with. She told the council to use, if they have any, their connections with the county to help.

Begley also said the nonprofit would like to open another shelter in the southeastern part of the county but that building another facility was a five-year goal.

On a related note, Police Chief Jim Kulesa told the council during his report that domestic violence victim Laura Webb of Cabot, who helped push for the new law called Laura’s Card, had already spoken to him about having a speaker come to the schools for domestic violence awareness month.

Kulesa said his officers were in training Monday night for Laura’s Card, a new law requiring police to notify victims of their rights, which had to be requested by victims before.

Law enforcement will also be required to conduct lethality assessments showing victims of domestic violence how at risk they are of being murdered by their abusers.

In other business:

Mayor Bernie Chamber-lain reported that the city’s $200 check to cover a processing fee for conducting a special census had been lost. A new check has been received, and she will have a cost estimate for performing the census to present to the council next month.

The city’s annual budget could see a $50,000 boost in turnback revenue — $250,000 over the next five years — after a special census is held, the mayor said previously.

General Improvement Funds provided by Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) are expected to cover the cost of conducting the census, which is estimated at $40,000.

Chamberlain said Monday that Austin could choose to be a first-class city, which would require it to provide more services, if the population reaches 2,500. But it doesn’t have to be a first-class city until there are 3,500 residents.