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Newhouse shelter needs help as domestic violence calls surge

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Posted at 11:20 PM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-02 00:52:23-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As calls for help continue to increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, Newhouse Domestic Violence Shelter is over capacity, forcing the nonprofit to get creative in finding safe alternative housing at a time when they are also running low on funds.

But the shelter has become a cause celeb, quite literally, for one of television's most famous doctors.

Back in July, Phil McGraw, a 1968 Shawnee Mission North graduate better know as "Dr. Phil," and his wife Robin, heard about Newhouse's work and gave the organization a $15,000 donation through the When Georgia Smiled Foundation. The organization is named after Robin’s mother, a domestic violence survivor.

Newhouse used the funds to renovate its children’s center. The organization said it's the only shelter in Kansas City to have such a facility for children of survivors.

Newhouse Children's Center (before)
Newhouse Children's Center (after)

Now, the shelter has launched a campaign to "Save Our Shelter" and protect those who benefit from it, asking the community to match that grant given by the McGraws.

For many, like a domestic violence survivor who sat down with 41 Action News for an interview Thursday, Newhouse provides a legitimate lifeline.

“It wasn't easy, but I knew that if I didn't do it now I may not have another chance to get out,” the survivor, whose face and voice have been altered to protect her identity, said.

Other than a few packed bags, the survivor said she had no plans after fleeing for safety, but she said making the decision to leave gave her more empowerment than fear.

“Making that call is very courageous in itself,” Ondria Thornton, an adult therapist at Newhouse, said, "and just knowing that the person on the other side, we are here to support we are here to help you."

Thornton said it can be scary leaving an abusive environment, because of how familiar that situation feels.

“How many people are just like me and kept their mouth shut because they're scared and they don't know what to do and they don't know how to get help," the survivor said.

But it had gotten to the point where leaving or staying had become a matter of life and possibly death.

“You think this time it'll be different and it starts all over again, and then I started getting threats of how he was going to kill me, the five different ways of how he was going to make it look like suicide or an accident because I'm so dumb that people would believe it," the survivor said.

Now, she said she finds strength and courage through her children.

"I know my kids need a mom and they need me to be strong and step up and move myself into a situation that we all deserve," the survivor said.

Imagine agonizing for years over whether to leave an abusive relationship only to discover there are no beds available at a shelter when you tried to leave.

“I called a couple (other) shelters and they were full," the survivor said. "It wasn't until I got together with Courtney that she said we are full and my heart instantly sank. I'm like, 'Here we go again,' but she said we have the funding to help you out and get you a safe place to stay."

Domestic violence calls are up nearly 30% since the pandemic began, which quickly depleted funding and bed space at Newhouse.

That's where the Save Our Shelter, or SOS, campaign comes in for Newhouse.

When Georgia Smiled

Newhouse has a 24/7 Domestic Violence Hotline available at 816-471-5800 for anyone in need of help to escape an abusive situation.

The shelter also provides outreach services for those in the community.

Newhouse also accepts donations of hygiene items, clothing, money and time.