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Winder home helps victims of domestic abuse
Char Garrett, Peace Place executive director, stands in front of the shelter’s transitional house for former victims of domestic abuse. - photo by BRANDEE A. THOMAS

It may appear to be an office, but a simple brick building on Jackson Street in Winder is the place where victims of domestic abuse can go to get a fresh start.

The structure is a transitional house for former residents of Peace Place, a shelter dedicated to helping women and children from domestic abuse situations.

"On average, residents stay at the shelter for about 30 days," said Char Garrett, Peace Place executive director. "While they are at the shelter, we pay for everything and help them get on their feet."

Among the services offered to residents at the shelter are life skills and parenting classes, as well as counseling. More of the same is offered to the women in the transitional housing, just on a more long-term basis.

"Residents in the transitional housing can stay anywhere from 6 months to a year," Garrett said. "The goal of the transitional housing is to help these women learn to lead independent lives. While they are here, they pay a low fee for rent for their apartment, and we require that they put so much of their income into a savings account. We match what they put in savings, so when they leave here, they have a little nest egg."

Having an additional option like the transitional housing is very important in helping domestic abuse victims flee their previous abusive relationship.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 1.3 million women become victims of domestic abuse each year, and without any other housing or financial options, many of those victims return to their abusers.

The organization also says that one-third of the homeless female population in certain areas of the country are homeless due to a domestic violence situation.

Although Peace Place primarily serves residents of Jackson, Barrow and Banks counties, Garrett says it’s not uncommon for the organization to assist women from other areas, including Hall County.

While the women are in the transitional house, staff members assist the residents in finding jobs, a requirement for staying in the home.

However, the current state of the economy has made that task more difficult.

"It’s very hard right now to help our residents find jobs," Garrett said. "Lots of places are laying people off, but not as many are hiring."

The goal of the program is to give the residents life skills that they can use to continue to prosper after they leave.

"We offer many different classes, including a basic auto maintenance class," Garrett said.

"They learn how to change their oil and a flat tire. The women really enjoy that class because it helps them to be able to do things for themselves instead of having to rely on someone else to do it for them. We also offer a budgeting class, because a lot of the women here didn’t have control of the money in their relationships, so it’s important to teach them how to handle their money."

With so many programs to offer its residents, Peace Place needs its fair share of funding to keep things up and running.

"We get some state and federal funding, but we rely on the community for a lot of our financial support, and so far we have been very blessed because our community really helps us out so much," Garrett said. "With the state cutting funding around the state, we really rely on the support of our community a lot. We also have the Peace Place Thrift Store in Arcade that also helps us to fund our program."

Although the Peace Place transitional house on Jackson Street has been open only since March 2007, Garrett says the home already has several success cases.

"So far, we have helped seven women and 22 children," she said. "Some women have been able to get on their feet quicker than others, so they haven’t stayed a full year. One woman, who came in with four kids, found a good job and was able to buy a home for her family after she left the transitional house.

"But even when our residents leave, we continue to be a support system for them. We like to let them know that there’s someone here for them if they need help."

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