July 17, 2019

THERESA JAVA/Free Press
Leadership Monroe participants raise money for The Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys during a recent event at Winn-Dixie in Tavernier.

THERESA JAVA/Free Press Leadership Monroe participants raise money for The Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys during a recent event at Winn-Dixie in Tavernier.

FLORIDA KEYS — If Stacey, Ann, Kristy and Diane were standing in a lineup, at least one of them has reported being a victim of sexual or physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.

That’s one in four women. For men, it’s one in 10, according to a 2015 summary brief issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These are the crimes that have been reported, as many victims remain silent out of shame or fear.

“This is one of our biggest challenges because domestic violence is underreported, and our job is to maintain confidentiality,” said Jennifer Powell, The Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys board director. “Domestic violence is often an invisible problem.”

The DAS of the Florida Keys provides the entire county with a comprehensive program to help victims who may be plotting their escape from private home violence. Oftentimes, finding a safe place can be a matter of life and death.

Between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, The DAS of the Florida Keys provided 3,520 shelter nights to 122 men, women and children. There were 39 requests for emergency shelter that went unmet, according to Powell, with only one 15-bed shelter in the Lower Keys.

The Lower Keys shelter has been operating at 100 percent capacity since the 2017 Hurricane Irma. The shelter’s second 25-bed facility in the Middle Keys was bludgeoned by the storm, forcing the organization to apply for a demolition permit.

Other services The DAS of the Florida Keys provided were answering 289 crisis calls on its 24-hour hotline and 667 direct service requests or referrals. The shelter also provides court advocacy to victims brave enough to confront their abuser face to face, counseling, children services and more.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also tracks home violence. The FDLE reported one fondling arrest, three threat arrests, 68 aggravated assault arrests and 310 simple assault arrests related to domestic violence in 2018 in the Florida Keys.

Four of the simple assault arrests were in Key Colony Beach, a town with a population of just 758.

“I think these numbers speak to the needs in Monroe County,” Powell said.

Federal funding for domestic abuse shelters in the U.S. is relatively new. And funding for the Keys shelter is desperately needed.

“We are about 75 percent grant-funded,” Powell said. “We are raising money not only for our capital campaign to rebuild the Middle Keys shelter, but we also have ongoing obligations to match grant dollars and pay for expenses not covered by grants.”

Ashley Arrabal as part of the Leadership Class XXVII said that raising funds for the shelter is imperative. She and her peers have slated the cause as their class project and have begun funding initiatives.

“This is such an important cause. We’re not immune to domestic violence here in the Keys. There’s definitely a need for a shelter. Everyone needs a safe place to go,” she said.

All of the shelter’s services are free to participants.

The Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys is currently recruiting board members, particularly from the Lower Keys, according to Powell.

The Leadership Class XXVII will be fundraising for the Domestic Abuse Shelter of the Florida Keys with a raffle at the Publix in Islamorada from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 20, and later this month at the Publix in Marathon.

For more information about the shelter, visit domesticabuseshelter.org. Anyone who needs assistance can call its 24 hour hotline at 305-743-4440.

tjava@keysnews.com