Volunteers collect donations for The Spring.

The Spring of Tampa Bay: a Safe Haven for Domestic Violence Victims

What you should know about domestic violence and how you can help stop it?

Domestic violence happens more often than you know and most of the time, the signs can go unnoticed. In 1976, a group of women living in Hyde Park did take notice and sheltered a friend who needed to escape her abusive husband. They kept her location a secret and helped her get the resources she needed. They began offering the same services to others and in 1977, incorporated The Spring of Tampa Bay. What began as a small bungalow in South Tampa turned into a 60-bed shelter a few years later and now, the current shelter houses 128 beds.

The Spring offers more than just housing. “Our goal is to help survivors be safe and empower them to make choices,” said Spring President and CEO Mindy Murphy, a resident of Northwest Hillsborough County. They provide a hotline for victims to contact where trained advocates will listen, ask questions and help create a safety plan, including transportation options if there is an immediate need for someone to escape. Outreach services are available through appointments or walk-ins and can provide counseling, safety planning and support groups in both English and Spanish.

Those who utilize the shelter (which is at an undisclosed location) as a safe haven, are provided with several on-site resources, such as free legal representation, to help provide injunction for protection. Suncoast Community Health sends a mobile medical van to the shelter once a week to provide medical care at no charge, including dental and vision services. On-site options for children include an elementary school for kindergarten through fifth grade, a childcare facility for ages two years through kindergarten, after school programs and summer camp. Their Shelter University offers classes such as computer training and financial literacy to help prepare survivors for self-sufficiency. One of the most common things that those in abusive relationships face is losing the simple act of making their own decisions. “The resources at The Spring are in place to give survivors the opportunity to make their own choices again and restore their sense of self,” Murphy said. In addition to the on-site resources, survivors are given all the supplies they need. Toiletries, clothing, diapers and toys are a few of the items that will be distributed once they seek shelter at The Spring.

Animal abuse has a very strong correlation to domestic violence and leaving pets behind is a very common stressor to survivors. In some cases, it can be a deciding factor on whether or not to leave for the fear of what the abuser may do to the animal. For those who show up with their pets, The Spring has a small day kennel on site to temporarily house them, and they also partner with the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, Domestic Violence Pet Haven, and local veterinarians to provide care and shelter for pets of survivors and take in all types of animals (caged animals such as fish and hamsters may stay on-site). Pets and their owners are reunited once survivors are ready to leave the shelter and move on.

Although the shelter is designed for short-term stay (the average stay is six to eight weeks), no one is turned away or asked to leave. Once someone leaves, they may return again any time they need. A 12-unit apartment complex called Peace Village is available for some survivors to move into for one year, typically given to those enrolled in college, maintaining a current job or going through a job-training program. For others who move on to a new place of their own, they can work with the outreach program to help make their transition easier and to ensure safety.

Creating awareness about domestic violence is also a major element of The Spring. An unfortunate statistic shows that the average age of someone to die at the hands of their abuser is between 16 and 24 years old. The Youth Prevention Program is presented at both public and private schools to middle and high school students. A one-hour presentation stresses the importance of healthy dating relationships, what to do if you or a friend is in an abusive relationship and when and how to get an adult involved. The Teen Summit is held every February and is geared towards teens, parents and community partners who work with the youth. Breakout sessions for teens focus on emotional and physical abuse, and sexual harassment. Adults learn how to look for red flags and warning signs of teen dating violence and what they can do to help. Speakers are also available to book for community and business events to discuss and provide trainings on what to do in an abusive situation.

How You Can Help

Donations are a constant need at The Spring. Although the shelter houses 128 survivors, they have had upwards of 140 people there within the last few months. Monetary donations are always welcome. Donations of supplies are also welcome. Items that are needed include towels; twin sheets; toiletries for adults and children; baby items such as diapers, wipes and lotion; clothing for men, women and children; cereal and umbrellas (an item typically overlooked). Each May, gift bags are put together for the children in the shelters to give their moms for Mother’s Day, and include donated items such as nail polish, jewelry and lotions (they ask that those please be donated by May 8). The Spring hosts several annual events that are open to the public, including Handbags & Happy Hour in April, Paddle for Peace in September and the Mabel H. Bexley Gift of Peace Lunch in October, named in honor of their previous executive director. Attending these events is also an excellent way for the community to become educated and support the organization.

What To Do if You Need Help

Murphy stressed that domestic violence does not discriminate and can happen anywhere, to anyone—in upper class and lower class areas—and their services are for everyone, no matter what. Although women are the victims in a vast majority of abusive situations, men can be victims too and are also welcomed at the shelter. Getting out of an abusive relationship can be risky, but there are different options to help. The Spring partners with all law enforcement offices, and survivors are able to go to any law enforcement location to make arrangements to go to the shelter if they feel unsafe. They also partner with Tampa General Hospital and should a survivor need medical assistance, they’re encouraged to go there immediately and call The Spring from there. It’s important that warning signs, especially physical ones, should never be ignored. “Strangulation is one of the most common forms of domestic violence and it can actually be life threatening even 10 to 12 hours after it has happened,” said Murphy. “Help should be sought out ASAP.”

Transportation to the shelter can be arranged from the police stations or the hospital, and law enforcement is always available to escort anyone who feels unsafe driving there alone.

Although there are many factors that can prevent a victim from leaving, such as fear for their children, financial situations, etc., getting away is a brave and life-saving move. The Spring is an empowering organization that has helped so many people get back on their feet. Whether you need to seek their outreach services or immediate shelter, making that phone call could help save your life.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive situation, you can contact The Spring 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (813) 247-SAFE (7233). The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1 (800) 799-7233.

Visit thespring.org for more information on their services, events and ways to donate and volunteer.

By Brie Gorecki

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