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Posted January 18, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Harmony Place looking for smaller location

By Sally Voth

A Warren County agency that provides shelter for abused women and children is looking for a new home.

Harmony Place, which provides services to victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and child abuse, and is a shelter for homeless women and children, is in a three-story building on Main Street in Front Royal.

Until December, it ran a large thrift store, A Second Chance, on the ground floor, Executive Director Melissa DeDomenico-Payne said.

She said the agency is looking for around 5,000-square-feet -- much less than the current building's 17,000-18,000-square-feet. The building, which Harmony Place has had since 2002, is for sale for $950,000.

"We may actually purchase two buildings," DeDomenico-Payne said. "It just depends on what we walk out of here with. It may be that we start to implement scattered-site shelter."

By that, she meant Harmony Place might rent a few apartments for its clients.

"They're really trying to get out of doing longer-term shelter for folks," DeDomenico-Payne said.

She said the state is encouraging agencies like hers to get people out of shelters and into permanent housing sooner.

Harmony's House's third floor had six efficiency apartments for a transitional housing program.

"That program ended about a year-and-a-half ago, and they're not putting funding into those types of programs, and it was pretty much under-utilized," DeDomenico-Payne said of the top floor.

According to Harmony Place's annual report, 77 adults and 54 children stayed in the shelter, while 16 adults and 21 children lived in transitional housing in Fiscal 2012.

"Right now, our shelter is full," DeDomenico-Payne said Friday afternoon. "It remains pretty much full most of the time.

"You can make the biggest shelter in the world and you would still turn people away because that's how it is. There's never enough shelter beds for folks."

The goal is to keep clients in the shelter for as brief a time as possible and get them into permanent housing, she said.

"That works with serving more folks who need shelter," DeDomenico-Payne said.

While the thrift store used to bring in a significant amount of income -- nearly half of Harmony Place's budget -- that hasn't been the case for a good five years, according to DeDomenico-Payne. She attributes that to a lack of volunteers, the recession, competition from Target, Wal-Mart and other thrift stores, and poorer-quality clothing.

"We may lease the [thrift store] space until we move, and that would generate more revenue than it has," DeDomenico-Payne said.

She stressed that Harmony Place wouldn't be closing down, and also said a new site hasn't been selected.

DeDomenico-Payne urged people to be alert to potential abuse, and to do something about it.

"If you don't feel like you can intervene yourself, if you see people fighting, call the police, call for help," she said. "Reporting it can help save somebody's life. And, if abuse happens in your family, don't keep silent because it's very likely that by keeping silent, the abuse will continue or be transferred on to someone else.

"And, it's very common. One in four people will be victims of domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime."

DeDomenico-Payne said it's been found that in Virginia, one in three or four girls, and one in five or six boys will be sexually assaulted by age 18.

"And, I've found it to be true when I sit down and talk with anybody," she said. "It's common, but it can be stopped, but the way you stop it is to recognize it and seek help for it if it's happening."

Most assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, DeDomenico-Payne said.

"And, people need to be very cautious about who they allow around their children, and if they have a child that's friendly, you need to stick close by them at all times," she said. "Try to know who's around them and be safe, especially people who have children and then are dating again. Check the person out and really establish a strong relationship with them before you expose them to your children."

Harmony Place's hotline -- 540-635-9062 -- is answered 24 hours a day.

A list of shelter needs can be found at its website, harmonyplace.org.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com

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