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Increase in Domestic Abuse Assaults Push Shelters Past Limit

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- More families in danger in Springfield, means the region's largest domestic violence shelter is turning away hundreds of people
Two years ago we had to turn away 1,100 women that came to us in need of shelter and we just didn't have the space. Last year the number is 1,600 women that we had to turn away due to lack of space.
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- More families in danger in Springfield means the region's largest domestic violence shelter is turning away hundreds of people.

During the mayor's recent State of the City address, he noted a nearly 50-percent rise in aggravated assault cases was largely due to an increase in domestic violence.

But even before that rise, local shelter Harmony House was already at capacity.

One domestic violence survivor shares the critical nature of an abused person's first steps when they decide to leave.

The decision can mean the difference between life and death.

But, many people faced with this monumental decision are being met with a closed door because of limited space.

Mother of four Mary Perry says it took courage and a long time to leave an abusive relationship with her husband of 15 years.

"Who I was, was no more," says Perry. "It took me years. I actually came here before when I was pregnant with my fourth child and went back because just being pregnant and being a mom you just think you want to make it work you you just think it will get better. You just have hopes or dreams that that's the one that he can change. And it just gets worse." 

Worse for Perry was months after the birth of her youngest when her husband held her at gunpoint during an argument.

"Honestly now I can say that I look back, I'm me and I've built myself up and I can say it was pretty darn bad." Perry says.

Perry explained the abuse was not always physical.

"It could have been mental, it could have been jealousy, it could have been controlling," Perry says.

But, getting to the point where she is now confident and back then courageous enough too leave her past took the help of Harmony House.

Harmony House offers women and their children shelter, counseling and classes to start their lives over. Right now the shelter is filled to capacity.

"That's 110 women and children each day and evening in the shelter," Harmony House Development Director Esther Munch says.

Children make up 50 percent of the population. Children also make up about half of the 561 people that Harmony House has had to turn away so far this year.

"Two years ago we had to turn away 1,100 women that came to us in need of shelter and we just didn't have the space," says Munch. "Last year the number is 1,600 women that we had to turn away due to lack of space."  

Harmony House tries to help those turned away the best they can.

"We partner with other area non-profits to make sure we are not turning people away into homelessness," Munch says.

Both Munch and Perry say Harmony House acts as kind of a safe passage taking these women and children from their abusive past into a new life.

"A lot of times our residents are leaving a very dangerous and unsafe situation, but they are also walking into the unknown," Munch says.

Perry says without a safety net some of those trying to escape domestic abuse will be trapped in their old lives.

"Because once you get to that point, if you don't move at that time, you'll go back," Perry says.

Harmony House is preparing for a capital campaign to build a new shelter. It has recently received a land donation. But, Perry says that does not address the many women and children who need help now.
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