Despite a worldwide pandemic that delayed the opening from April to May, The Shelter for Abused Women & Children cut the ribbon on the new Shelly Stayer Shelter, May 26, in Immokalee. The residential wings of the long-awaited facility opened to residents in need of safe shelter on Monday, June 1.
“The dream we planted three years ago has come to fruition,” said Lead Benefactor Shelly Stayer during a small ribbon cutting, “We know this beautiful facility will bear much fruit in this community and break the cycle of violence for generations to come.”
In October 2016, Stayer provided a $3 million gift to launch the capital campaign to build and endow the 22,500-square-foot, 60-bed shelter designed by architect David Corban and built by Build, LLC. The location of the new shelter is undisclosed for security reasons. The facility’s unique design includes state-of-the-art security with separate residential areas for victims of human trafficking and survivors of domestic violence, as well as a wing for outreach services. All services are provided free of charge.
Although the emergency shelter is new to the community, the Shelter’s Immokalee Outreach Office has been serving Immokalee since 1997, providing counseling, prevention programs and referral services. In 2000, The Shelter was recognized as a national model for the Immokalee Outreach Office’s work serving immigrant and migrant battered women.
Shelter CEO Linda Oberhaus says The Shelter recognized the need for an emergency shelter in Immokalee around 2010, as incidents of domestic violence were increasing.
“We saw that some victims were choosing to stay in unsafe circumstances rather than travel 45 miles to Naples for emergency shelter,” she explained, “Having this new facility in their own community will allow Immokalee survivors to be safe as well as close to their family support systems, employment and their children’s schools.”
As The Shelter launched a needs study for a domestic violence shelter in Immokalee, they also noticed a rise in human trafficking incidents county-wide. In March 2015, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement made the largest human trafficking bust in southwest Florida history, arresting 15 traffickers and rescuing six women, some of whom were forced to perform 25-45 sex acts a day.
“It was shocking to most people,” Oberhaus said of the arrests, “It created a loud call to action by law enforcement and the entire community. Most people had no idea that human trafficking was taking place in Naples.”
To maximize the use of the new facility and accommodate the increasing need to serve victims of both domestic violence and human trafficking, The Shelter designed the new facility with separate wings for each populace.
According to Oberhaus, there are similarities in the abuse suffered by domestic violence and human trafficking victims. Both involve the use power and control by the abuser or trafficker to dominate their victims. Common tactics include isolations, physical and emotional violence, sexual abuse, financial abuse, threats to family and children to manipulate and control their victims, as well as withholding food, sleep and medical care.
While the average length of stay for a survivor of domestic violence is 6-8 weeks, a victim of human trafficking might require a stay of 6-8 months or more of long-term therapeutic care due to multiple perpetrators causing significant physical, emotional and mental abuse. Endangerment levels and legal remedies are also very different for trafficked women.
Craig and Patricia Jilk, benefactors of the two domestic violence wings of the new shelter, have been actively involved in philanthropic efforts in Immokalee for 15 years.
“In that time, we have seen the changes and growth in Immokalee and, although there are many nonprofits that offer services to families, the one missing piece that we noticed was the lack of a building for victims of domestic violence,” Patricia Jilk says. “So when The Shelter announced plans for a building in Immokalee, we signed up. We all appreciate the successful shelter in Naples and we know how the work they have done has turned around the lives of women and children. The same thing can now happen in Immokalee.”
For more information on the Shelly Stayer Shelter, call 239-775-3862. To secure services, call the Immokalee Office at 239-657-5700. If you are in an unsafe relationship and need emergency shelter, call The Shelter’s 24-hour Crisis Line at 239-775-1101.