Courthouse, Shelter decision looms near

By Kelly Ducote, The Observer March 03, 2014 12:40 pm

Commissioners expected to decide Wednesday whether Shelter From the Storm will stay in place 

In September 1998, Shelter From the Storm staff moved into a 3,575-square foot building.

“We have so much space,” then-director Annie Ray told The Observer.

The current Shelter director now fears their home is in danger.

Union County officials are eyeing its location, on the corner of Fifth Street and M Avenue, as an ideal spot for the new Union County Courthouse.

In 1995, a $500,000 community block grant was awarded to construct the Shelter building. The grant, received by Union County, provided much-needed space for the Shelter, which had been operating out of the SAC Annex and previously the old courthouse. The county donated land for the site.

Shelter From the Storm Executive Director Teresa Crouser says their building suits their needs and was designed to do so.

“Our clients are frequently in the courts, so it’s good to be in close proximity,” she said.

Often times Shelter employees will walk over to the courthouse to help clients fill out paperwork for restraining orders. The trek is convenient now, but Crouser says if they weren’t close the trip could negatively impact victims.

“You can wear a victim down with too much of that,” she said.

The Shelter’s entrance isn’t easily viewed by the public, but instead provides a way for clients to come in without being noticed. Inside, decorated walls and furniture await.

“You feel safe walking in here,” Crouser said.

After checking in at the front desk, clients are moved to a waiting area with few windows, for security purposes. Many clients have children, who go to the children’s room, which has Legos, toys, videos and brightly painted walls.

“We have diapers, everything you need for kids,” Crouser said, adding that their kitchen is stocked with snacks and food for lunch.

Today, $2 million in state funding will help build a new courthouse, but it may come at the expense of the Shelter From the Storm building. Officials have said the building may need to be razed.

The news has raised concerns at Shelter From the Storm, which was notified Jan. 15 that it needs to be out by June.

“We’re only a staff of seven. I don’t know how we would facilitate (moving),” Crouser said. “If they’re packing up the office, they won’t be working on grant projects.”

Then the questions is, where do they go? County officials have proposed the location of current court facilities, but that wouldn’t be available until the new courthouse is complete.

Other logistical issues include the Shelter’s food bank, which could not easily be moved to a third-story location.

“What do we do in the meantime?” Crouser said. “I think there’s other options they could look at. We just hope that they will.”

Crouser had hopes for a family justice center, but that and other improvements seem to be pushed to the back burner for now.

A $10,000 grant that would turn the Shelter’s counseling room into a sexual assault forensic exam room is on hold.

“We were really quite blown away Jan. 15 that a decision was so progressed,” Crouser said. “We increase safety not only for survivors but for neighbors. Having us here is a benefit to the community.”

In the last meeting of the county commissioners, Union County Planning Director Hanley Jenkins laid out options for the new courthouse that involve leaving the Shelter. Commissioners are expected to make a decision this week at their meeting.

If you go

What: Union County Board of Commissioners meeting

Who: Open to public

When: 9 a.m. Wednesday

Where: Misener Community Room, Chaplin Building