Pasco shelter offers haven from abuse

Abuse can come in many different forms.

It can also be a sensitive issue for victims to divulge, especially if it occurs within their own households.

It’s a nationwide problem, and efforts have been made nationally and locally to provide safer environments for adults and children who have been abused.

Pasco County is among those striving to improve services for people in this situation.

Kelly Sinn has been working at Sunrise of Pasco County Inc., since 2002, helping survivors of domestic abuse rehabilitate. In 2013, Sinn succeeded Penny Morrill as CEO of the organization. (Courtesy of Sunrise of Pasco County Inc.)

Pasco has been engaged in this issue since 1982, when a group of Pasco residents formed a small coalition group which later became known as the Sunrise of Pasco County Inc., Domestic and Sexual Violence Center.

“It started as a grassroots organization,” explained Kelly Sinn, current CEO of Sunrise. “Initially, it was community members that saw that there was an issue.”

Under the helm of a female abuse survivor, the organization recruited volunteers within the community who were willing to open their homes for a night or two.

While it provided a temporary solution, it was understood that there needed to be something in place more long-term.

Sunrise started with one office in Dade City and, over the years, expanded with a shelter, a thrift store and outreach sources for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse.

During its 35-year history, Sunrise has grown, and now has facilities in Dade City and New Port Richey serving all of Pasco County.

The problem is well-documented. In Pasco County alone, during 2017 there were more than 4,000 reported incidents of domestic abuse, which includes sexual assault, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The number of reported cases has risen steadily since 2013, figures show.

Sunrise works to reduce incidents of abuse through prevention programs, such as its collaboration with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the initiative has trained counselors from Sunrise who travel to Pasco middle schools and high schools to teach students about such things as safe dating, healthy relationships and anti-bullying.

The students also are taught about being aware of their surroundings and learning to recognize — and avoid — areas that are prone to violence, both on and off campus.

All Sunrise employees go through a certified training, said Sinn, and when a counselor is told by a student that there is abuse occurring within their home, the counselor is obligated to make a report to authorities.

On the collegiate level, Sunrise has implemented the Green Dot Program at Saint Leo University, which teaches students how to safely intervene and de-escalate tense situations on campus.

When it comes to the legal aspect, Sunrise constantly works with all Pasco police departments to relay vital information.

This initiative was partially propelled by the Intimate Violence Enhanced Service Team (InVEST) established in 2009.

In addition to communicating with law enforcement, InVEST is a program that allows Sunrise to use both East and West Pasco courthouses as meeting places for survivors and legal advocates, as well as attorneys.

Here, survivors can learn the best options for their situation whether it is getting legal representation, getting a restraining order or an injunction.

Immense resources must be put in place for all these factors to play out.

That’s where the recent Reindeer Run held on Dec. 1, and Peace Breakfast, set for Dec. 6, come in.

While they can be enjoyable events, they also raise money to support Sunrise.

The Peace Breakfast is free; however, generous donations are accepted.

Aside from these benefits, the organization also receives federal, state and local funding, as well as private donations.

This makes it possible to provide three meals a day and counseling to victims, and direct them to resources for employment, housing and financial aid.

The 40-bed shelter, which houses individuals for a minimum of eight weeks, is a launching pad for progression said Sinn.

However, in some cases it may take an extended three to four months.

“Sometimes eight weeks isn’t long enough for a family to be able to find employment, child care [and] save up enough money to rent their own apartment,” she explained.

Sunrise also works with the welfare system to make sure that children are not split from their nonoffending parent, reducing the number taken into foster care.

While people tend to think of women and children as being targets of abuse, Sinn said there are men, too, that can be abused.

Sunrise does take in men, from time to time, and they have their own separate shelter.

While the organization typically deals with difficult and traumatizing issues, it also witnesses survivors who are able to pick up the pieces of their lives.

This is something Sinn credits to “such a supportive and embracing community” in Pasco County.

Sinn remembered a call she received several years ago from an abuse survivor who was in a happy marriage, with a child going off to college.

“That’s really humbling,” she said.

“Thank Yous come in so many different forms,” Sinn said.

Besides phone calls, Christmas cards, hugs and tears, there are also those who come back to work or volunteer at Sunrise, a place that helped them regain a sense of security.

If you have experienced abuse and you need help, Sunrise’s hotline staff is available 24 hours a day at (352) 521-3120.

Sunrise of Pasco’s 15th Annual Peace Breakfast
Where: Greenfelder Board Room at Saint Leo University, 33701 State Road 52 in Saint Leo
When: Dec. 6 from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
Cost: Free with a voluntary donation
Details: Courtney Weil and her children will speak at the breakfast about being survivors of domestic violence and prevention efforts.
Info: To RSVP, contact Sunrise at (352) 521-3358 or gro.o1544869968csaPe1544869968sirnu1544869968S@stn1544869968eve1544869968.

Published December 5, 2018

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