Silent night. Violent night.
Many Utah families are relishing the joy of being home with family during the holiday season, but the flip side of the coin is much sadder: The YWCA's women's shelter is filled to capacity, and its staff expects a big influx of women seeking help right after the new year.
The facility currently is providing emergency shelter for 80 people, not counting toddlers under age 2, according to Melinda Pettingill, prevention education director for the YWCA of Salt Lake City.
"We had six families check in over the weekend, which is a huge number to have check in two days before Christmas," she said.
"Right after New Year's, the numbers tend to jump, with more women calling in with crisis calls, more women stopping in for shelter, more coming for information or resources such as financial assistance or protective order information," Pettingill said. "I tell my employees, 'Nobody's taking off the first week of January because we get so many crisis calls."'
Pettingill said the shelter traditionally is full in January and February, largely due to the number of domestic crises that occur over the holidays.
Pettingill suggests that some women stick it out in an abusive home over Christmas, especially if they have children, because the women want the kids to have a good holiday.
Pettingill also has worked with perpetrators and said they might want to be on their best behavior and they might not want to be abusers but without professional help, they cannot sustain any change.
"People do their best to cover it up and make things nice during the holidays, but literally the day after Christmas, I always work because I have several phone calls from women asking where they can come for a support group or where they can get information for safety plans."
The YWCA's shelter, which opened in 1976, is the oldest and largest in the area and probably gets more use than others. It frequently refers people to other shelters.
In 2006, the YWCA shelter turned away 888 people for lack of space but offered them motel vouchers where they could stay temporarily until there was room for them
The shelter tries to make an otherwise bleak time happier for its residents. Adults and children gets presents, and there are holiday decorations, food and music.
"We do everything in our power to provide these families with a sense of tradition and love," Pettingill said.
She does not believe that domestic violence has increased but that it is being reported more often now that people are aware that it is a crime.
Domestic violence affects 37 percent of women in Utah, according to a Dan Jones report commissioned by the Utah Domestic Violence Council and the governor's office. It also is the number one form of reported child abuse and the top reason why children are taken from homes, said Pettingill, citing statistics from the Division of Children and Family Services.
The situation is somewhat different in Davis County at the Safe Harbor shelter, which is operated by the Davis Citizens' Coalition Against Violence.
Currently, there are 17 families there, according to shelter manager Molly Prentice. The shelter can handle 31 families, again not counting youngsters under age 2.
There are no studies documenting why the numbers would be lower now, but Prentice suggests there may be several reasons.
"I think it's just the holiday season: not wanting to be away from family, wanting to give people another chance, not wanting to be in a shelter over Christmas with their kids."
Safe Harbor also tries to make this time of year happier for its residents. The shelter pairs families there with others in the community who "adopt" them in an arrangement much like Sub for Santa. If someone checks in closer to Christmas, the shelter uses its own resources to provide gifts, toys and clothes.
Prentice expects the number of people seeking shelter to increase around February or March.
Among other things, Safe Harbor offers advice on safety plans for women in abusive relationships, which are preparations for getting out of the house fast."If you are home, have a plan of where you're going to go if you have to leave quickly, whether it's staying with a friend, family or in a shelter. Have a bag packed with important items like a change of clothes, a couple of days' worth of prescriptions, copies of birth certificates and Social Security cards, extra money, extra car keys and a cell phone," she said.
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