Story last updated at 12:26 p.m. Friday, September 6, 2002

Women's shelter set to open
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: news
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Counselor Chris Fontaine of South Peninsula Women's Services  
With a hand-made quilt covering each of its 10 new beds, South Peninsula Women's Services and the volunteers who crafted them are seeking to offer a little warmth to the lives of women who have been the victims of domestic violence and abuse.

The quilts and the rest of South Peninsula Women's Services new shelter were unveiled at an open house on Friday, during which the center showcased a recently completed 1,000-square-foot addition that features new living quarters, which are located in its Lake Street office building.

While the new rooms remain sparsely decorated, the quilts have given them a cozy feel.

"It was great," said Samantha Cunningham, who instigated and coordinated the quilts' donation. "The rooms are really nice, but they are pretty much furnished catch as catch can. Then we put all the quilts on the beds and, wow, it really made all the difference."

Cunningham said a number of local women rallied for a group effort that involved the generous help of the quilting group Quilters by the Bay, as well as Dana Beasley, owner of Seams to Bee. Each quilt has a label that proclaims it to be the work of Homer women, "for the Homer Shelter, with love."

Cunningham said she hopes to keep the quilting project going for the shelter, foreseeing the possibility that children housed in the shelter might be able to take a quilt with them.

The comfort provided by the quilts seems to underscore the purpose of the new shelter.

The new addition means that women in need can find a safe haven without having to uproot themselves or their children from their community, said Laurentia Chamblee, executive director of the center. In the past, South Peninsula Women's Services would either put women in motel rooms or safe houses locally, or take them up the road to a shelter in the Kenai-Soldotna area.

"It's very gratifying to see it completed," she said. "Having worked in a community that did have a shelter, I recognized that there was quite an absence in providing services here on the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula. Now they can stay in their own community."

With 18 months of construction behind it and a new security system installed, South Peninsula Women's Services needs only to increase its staffing capabilities and it can begin housing clients.

Several of the center's 10 employees have already taken the mandatory 40-hour training course required by the state to work in a live-in shelter, and Chamblee said the center would seek to supplement its staff with a pool of people who might volunteer their help. She also said South Peninsula Women's Services plans to add more paid employees as well.

"We've come this far," Chamblee said. "I would hope that it won't be too much longer before we open our doors to people (in need)."

The living quarters will add to the services already offered at the facility, which include child care, counseling and legal referrals.

Counselor Chris Fontaine said there will have to be at least one staff member at the site any time there is a client staying in the building.

"Security is already an (important) issue for us," said Fontaine, who added that the center was dealing with distraught husbands and boyfriends inquiring about their partners long before work began on a live-in facility. "The safety of our clientele is the first priority."

Cameras at building entry points as well as an alarm system guard the new facility, which consists of 1,000-square feet of additional space on both the first and second floor as well as former offices converted to bedrooms.

The remodel and expansion will ultimately end up costing South Peninsula Women's Services just over $200,000, Chamblee said.

The center received some crucial grants that enabled the project to move forward, including $122,000 from the Rasmuson Foundation and $70,000 from the state's Department of Community and Economic Development. South Peninsula Women's Services also raised around $37,000 locally, Chamblee said.

The work was originally estimated to cost around $140,000, but that figure went out the window after the center became entangled in a dispute over what handicapped access was required in the newly remodeled facility. The original plans called for ramp access to the lower level, where the center planned to house its offices and one bedroom.

But after complaints from the Independent Living Center in Homer stopped construction last winter, South Peninsula Women's Services had its plans redesigned to include a $45,000 elevator. The elevator brought the center into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Charlie Gibson, the president of the center's board of directors, told the Homer News in December that the problem stemmed mostly from the South Peninsula Women's Services having trouble determining exactly what the ADA requirements were.

Chamblee said the center was able to raise the money to pay for the elevator, and construction was only delayed by six months.

"We didn't want to have the project stymied or stalled any longer than we had to because the community needs the facility," Chamblee said. "I think in the end we're all glad that (the elevator) is in there."

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homernews.com.

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