North Central Florida domestic abuse survivors may receive more help after a local victims services agency expands its facilities through grant money and local donations.
The Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network’s emergency services campus is expanding to serve twice as many victims, said Peaceful Paths outreach services director Maria Ferguson.
Construction will break ground at 12:30 p.m. on March 4 at the agency’s main outreach office, at 2100 NW 53rd Ave. in Gainesville.
“I am impressed almost every day with the ability and the resilience of the human spirit and people being able to rise above these horrible circumstances,” Ferguson said. “It just kind of sticks with you, but in a positive way.”
Peaceful Paths operates an emergency shelter and provides transitional housing and counseling for battered women and children throughout Alachua, Union and Bradford counties.
A total of 1,769 domestic abuse cases were reported in Alachua, Bradford and Union counties in 2011 year, according to 2012 data from Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Only one in 10 domestic violence cases is reported to law enforcement, Paths executive director Theresa Beachy said. The actual number of victims in the three counties should be much higher.
Ferguson said that in addition to a general rise in population, more people living below the poverty line can influence the amount of domestic violence the shelter sees.
“My hope is that in reality we are actually building a better community, so more people are responding and it’s not actually an increase of crime.”
Victims have had to travel across town to receive care and counseling, but with an expanded shelter, all of the facilities would be in one area, offering greater protection.
The agency will build about 12 apartments for victims. Tenants usually stay from 18 months to three years, said Brandi Corbin, director of residential programs.
“The most dangerous part of transitioning out of an abusive relationship for victims is leaving, Beachy said. “That’s why the most critical aspect is safety and providing them with a shelter during that time.”
The planned expansion will provide 75 beds, an increase from the 37 now offered, Beachy said.
Expansion plans were announced in 2011 when the agency received a $1 million donation from a trustee and board of directors member and bought 16 acres of land near the current facility, according to a press release.
In addition to the donation, the agency received a $3 million grant in 2013 from the state Department of Children and Families in partnership with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Construction should finish in June 2015.
During their time with Peaceful Paths, victims receive counseling and training to prepare them emotionally and financially for a life after abuse, Beachy said.
“Domestic violence affects victims across socioeconomic groups, across differences in race and religion,” Beachy said. ”We try to provide a place for all of them.”