Sheila was living in a camping trailer with her three sons and no bathroom or cooking facilities before she moved into the safe house operated by the Women's Resource Center.
The nonprofit organization, which has served Clatsop County for 21 years, also operates a 24-hour hotline for emergencies, provides advocacy, support groups, counseling and financial assistance to survivors of abuse, as well as providing dating violence education in schools, operating a coffee shop and thrift store.
A cease in the shelling
Sheila, whose name has been changed to maintain confidentiality, lived in Clatsop County years ago, but moved to attend the University of Oregon. As a single mom, she commuted an hour each way to classes, and her only child care option was an in-law who propositioned her for sex.
"He was a very vulgar man, who couldn't stop talking to me about - excuse my language - pussy," Sheila said. "Considering he was the only person I could depend on, it was very bad."
But Sheila, 39, earned a journalism degree, but she couldn't find work. She moved to Clatsop County and found a job at a cannery. That's when she moved into the trailer. Sheila searched daily for a place to shower, clean her boys, wash clothes and cook dinner. She heard about WRC and went in hoping for some direction to services.
"For me, it was simply a case of not having a place to be," she said. "They snatched me right out of that situation."
Within a day, she and her boys moved into the safe house, which is a home Fund-raiser setBaked Alaska will host a "Light Bite II Chefs Night Out" event to benefit the Women's Resource Center from 6 to 9 p.m. March 19 at the restaurant at the foot of 12th Street. Several local restaurants will serve hors d'oeuvres and local artists, including the Heather Christie Band, will provide live tunes. Tickets will cost $25 for adults and $10 for children. There will be a raffle with a chance to win a two-day trip to Victoria, British Columbia, on the Victoria Clipper.
The WRC is funded mainly through United Way contributions, grants, thrift store and coffee proceeds and private donations.
"Fund-raising is a big part of this especially with the state cutbacks," WRC board Chairwoman Linda Thompson said.
For tickets, call the Women's Resource Center at 325-3426 or Baked Alaska at 325-7414.reserved for people who have been victims of domestic violence.
Some were abused by their husbands for two decades. Some were beaten by their lovers for a month. Some struggle with chronic illnesses. Some are trying to raise their babies alone.
"When women come here, they have lived in fear and built up their own cycle to go with the cycle of violence," safe house manager Anna Thompson said.
Thompson began volunteering at WRC after the domestic abuse in her sister's relationship escalated until the woman's husband shot her. Two decades later, Thompson's sister is still confined to a wheelchair.
As the safe house manager, she often calms the living environment.
"These people are used to being in the war zone," Thompson said. "Sometimes they create it for themselves because that's their comfort zone."
One morning, Shannon Symonds bustled into Columbia Memorial Hospital. Symonds supervises the Domestic Abuse Response Team - a partnership between county law enforcement, hospitals and WRC. Several times a week, she responds to calls of domestic abuse.
At the hospital, Symonds pulls back an exam room curtain to see a middle-aged woman, who was beaten by a male resident at a home where she lives and cares for an elderly woman. Toni, whose name has been changed for her safety, argued with the man the night before.
The man - who is in his 40s - wrapped a towel around his hand "so no one could see the marks," pounded her and then called police. Police arrested the man and took photographs of Toni's bruises.
"They don't have half the pictures of these bruises because I didn't know I had them 'til this morning," she said.
In the hospital room, Toni lifted her hospital gown to reveal a leg, pocked with purple and yellow bruises. She couldn't walk on her leg.
Capt. Alan Oja estimates Astoria Police respond to eight to 10 calls of domestic violence per month.
"It's reported more now than it used to be," said Oja, who's been on the force for 26 years. "There's more education now."
When he first started, police would simply separate the people, but the laws have changed. Police must make an arrest if there is clear evidence of an assault. Then they call WRC staff.
WRC staff responded to 115 cases of domestic abuse last year and 32 sexual abuse cases, Director Pat Burness said. The number is down from when the response program began in 1996, she said.
Before the program started, women were left to themselves to seek out the WRC and find ways to leave an abusive situation, Burness said.
"There's more fear of unknown," she said. "It's easier at times to stay in an abusive situation."
Emergency room nurse Shaun Haner said she sees at least two potential domestic violence cases during the three 12-hour shifts she works each week. Haner said hospital nurses offer to call W.R.C. staff if a patient appears to have been abused or raped.
"It's just helpful to have a person," Haner said. "Sometimes the emergency room is full and we just don't have time to spend with the patient. They can sit with them and support them."
Hands of an ally
As nurses and doctors buzzed in and out of the exam room, Symonds asked Toni if she wanted to leave the living situation.
"I feel like I'm drowning out there; I'm holding on like this," Toni said, clutching at an invisible piling. "Why do I keep attracting losers?"
"Most of the men who batter women have very low self esteems and they're attracted to strong, nurturing caregivers," Symonds said. "I see more nurses, more child care workers, more teachers than anyone else. You're a caregiver and he was probably more attracted to your good qualities."
Symonds drove her to W.R.C., where they searched for clothing at the center's thrift store, Deja Vu.
W.R.C. staff counseled her about restraining orders while helping her select make-up, fill prescriptions and buy groceries. They provided her with bus tickets so she could attend college classes and made plans for a way to retrieve her belongings. Then, Symonds drove her to the safe house.
"The priority of the house is that you get healthy inside," Symonds said.
Safe house residents agree to volunteer for the agency and attend at least one of the support groups for those who have been through domestic or sexual violence. A new support group recently began serving Hispanic women, who may need help orienting themselves in Astoria
Ceasefires that last
The Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program, through the Department of Human Services, partners with the W.R.C. and Management Training Corp. to help people on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, find jobs and gain skills.
LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian
Sue Arzola helps regular Deja Vu shoppers Tammy Scire and Tommy Koloa, 4, make their purchases last week. Proceeds from Deja Vu help support the Women's Resource Center."A good percent of folks on cash assistance have been victims of domestic violence," Director Kelley Horsman said. "They get the work experience during the day and then the support they need as well."
Typically, the program places about 15 people throughout the county and six or seven work at Deja Vu or Deja Brew, the adjoining coffee shop.
"These are women who would never feel connected to their community, because they're on welfare," W.R.C. Director Burness said.
For Beth Goodwin, 29, the JOBS program ushered her into a college classes for nursing.
"They have so many resources and so many things," she said. "They have a lot of connections. You just gotta ask."
Goodwin has two children, but still volunteers at Deja Vu each week.
"You find friends, you teach each other and lunch together," she said. "You start having a bonding friendship with people."
One afternoon Goodwin pops into volunteer while a dozen others are dashing about. Some are painting a back room, which will house the thrift store's new Internet version - Virtual Vu. A pipe in the basement ruptured and Burness was in hip waders, preparing to fix the leak. Meanwhile, W.R.C board chairwoman Linda Thompson stopped in to drop off donations.
"I enjoy coming to Deja Vu because it's always so full of energy," Thompson said. "We tend to get really loyal to this organization and stay with it."
The Women's Resource Center is located at 1010 Duane Street, suite 207 in Astoria. The phone number is 325-3426 during office hours. The 24-hour crisis line is 325-5735.
For more information about the JOBS program, call Carla Pitts at M.T.C.'s Training and Placement Services at 325-9511.