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Amid awareness month, Sheltering Wings offers hope with Hendricks County domestic violence cases on the rise

By Stephanie Dolan

Six months ago John found himself in an abusive relationship and needed help to escape the domestic violence situation. 

“I was in an abusive relationship with a man for about seven months,” he said. “It got to the point where he was freaking out and doing drugs, and I was either going to stay and possibly lose my life or get out.”

After packing his suitcase, John discovered that Sheltering Wings in Danville offers help and services to men in domestic violence situations.

“They had a bed for me, and they had the police to come get me,” the 52-year-old Avon man said. “I’ve been here almost six months now. I didn’t have much when I got here. I had a suitcase with a few clothes. I didn’t know what I was going to do or where I was going to go. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had nothing but positive things happen to me.” 

John is not alone in finding himself in a domestic violence situation. Hendricks County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Col. Roger Call said that nearly 10% of domestic disturbance case reports were classified as domestic violence-related in 2020. 

“Out of 1,911 case reports, we determined that 186 of those were actual domestic violence,” he said.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and in Indiana, more than 40% of women and more than 25% of men experience some form of domestic violence during their lifetimes, according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence.

Across the country, including in Hendricks County, people find themselves in domestic violence situations on a greater scale as a result of quarantining and COVID-19.

Even though his boyfriend regularly searched his phone, John took a chance and called Sheltering Wings.

John’s case worker Jan Smither has worked with Sheltering Wings guests for five years.

“She’s helped with my credit, and has been a positive role model in my life,” John said. “I have direction back in my life, and I’m starting to feel better about myself. I’ve got into a church since I’ve been here, and that’s helped a lot.”

He has also attended a financial education and men’s empowerment program, two classes among several weekly offerings at Sheltering Wings. 

John’s story started out like many love stories but turned into a dangerous situation. 

“He was like Prince Charming when it started out,” he said. “But it eventually went from day to night. I could start to see warning signs when he started to try to control my finances. What little family I have up here, he didn’t want me to talk to. He started going through my phone and questioning every move I made. He accused me of going out and being with other men. I found out he was using meth and drinking, and there was no telling what else he was doing. What really freaked me out was the meth. He got psychotic and kind of out of his head.”

John had been thinking about getting away for about a month before he made a move.

“I was afraid to kind of research it because he would get into my phone,” he said. “I didn’t want him to find out I was thinking of leaving. I have a few cousins up here and a few aunts. I didn’t want to go to a family member. He knew where everybody lived. I just didn’t want to put that responsibility on anyone else.”

When his boyfriend got physically abusive, John tried to fight back but his then-partner, who John said was on drugs at the time, had the upper hand.

“You don’t hear of men being abused very much,” he said. “Being a gay male, my self esteem was horrible when I got here. I was real scared when I first arrived.”

John even admitted to leaving Sheltering Wings for a night to try going back to his abusive partner.

“I wound up having to go to the hospital, and the shelter had to come pick me up there,” he said. “I tried going back to him out of loneliness. I thought maybe it would be different and wasn’t really thinking in my right head at all.”

John said he’s had no contact since that night and is in the third phase of the Sheltering Wings program, and he plans to use the rapid rehousing program. 

“My goal is to, in January, get my own apartment and buy a car,” John said. “That’s why I’ve been trying to fix my credit. My case worker has told me on several occasions that I don’t have to leave in January because I’m eligible to stay up to a year.”

Sheltering Wings, which expanded and opened space for up to 12 men in February, offers separate housing for men and women in a yearlong program, Smither said. The program, which can house 68 women, is broken into phases, starting with emergency shelter and progressing into classes, finding jobs and eventually independent living.

Since opening in 2002, the Danville shelter has helped 16,000 women, men and families.

Earlier this year Sheltering Wings, partnered with Cummins Behavioral Health and RealAmerica, broke ground for an affordable house development called Haven Homes to provide independent living. 

Haven Homes will include about 55 units, a combination of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, along with counseling and support services. Some Sheltering Wings residents will transition to this permanent housing. 

In the first phase of emergency shelter, those seeking help have no requirements “other than filling out paperwork, catching your breath and figuring out what you want to do,” Smither said. “A month in, they go to phase two, and they start the process of going to classes and figuring out how to get a job and budgeting and things like that. People can do education and family development or therapy with kids or doctors’ appointments.”

Sheltering Wings has residents take month by month small steps to make accomplishments. They also offer help to those who complete the on-site services.

“We’ve been blessed with rapid rehousing dollars to help victims of domestic violence enter into that program,” she said. “John is working on repairing his debt. He would receive non-residential case management at that point that he is in his own apartment.”

If someone isn’t ready to leave once the year finishes, the shelter does month-by-month extensions. 

“On the first of each month they sit down with their case manager and make a plan,” Smither said. “The case managers do a really good job with preparing them and helping them figure things out.”

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that one in four women and one in seven men violence from an intimate partner in their lifetimes, Sheltering Wings is working to change those statistics and help survivors thrive and teach youth about what healthy relationships look like.

“Those numbers are unacceptable. Unfortunately, we don’t have any reason to believe abuse is any less prevalent in our region,” said Kevin Carr, communications and church relations officer for Sheltering Wings. “So, we continue to work with great urgency. Each time we answer the 24/7 helpline, each time we provide a survivor with emergency housing, each time we help residents and non-residential clients learn vital life skills, and each time we work with young people to teach them about healthy relationships, we know we’re making a difference. We’re grateful for all the individuals, churches, businesses, civic groups and foundations that partner with us to break the cycle of abuse.”

John sees Sheltering Wings as a blessing and the steps helped him take control of his responsibilities.

“They don’t chase you down and make you come to a class or go to a case manager appointment,” he said. “It’s up to me to better my life. I’m blessed to be here. They’re offering all the tools, but they’re not going to make me do it.”

John likes that he’s held accountable on good days and bad.

“On the bad days there’s always been someone I can talk to about situations I’ve had here,” he said, noting everyone has a story to tell, but residents might not all get along all the time. “It’s not all fun and games. Some other clients might be having a bad day and it rubs off on you. I can come to my caseworker or go to a director or come to an advocate.”

It’s also important for John to remember, especially under these circumstances, not to stereotype.

“People need to understand, just like a drug addiction or alcohol addiction, domestic abuse happens in all classes of life,” he said. “It happens to men as well as women.”

Sheltering Wings

24/7 Helpline: (317) 745-1496

Website: http://shelteringwings.org

Facebook: http://facebook.com/ShelteringWings

Sheltering Wings held a luminary lantern launch at Gary Eakin Community Park in Danville to remember victims lost to domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and this is the second year for the launch. (Cover photo by Eric Pritchett)

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