Iris Domestic Violence Center expands, offers ‘safe haven’ transitional housing for survivors

BATON ROUGE — The Iris Domestic Violence Center is expanding its current shelter to offer a new on-site transitional housing for survivors.

The new wing can provide a more intimate living environment for women and their children who are adjusting to living without their abuser.

“This is a little bit different than emergency housing,” Iris Domestic Violence Center executive director Pattie Freeman says. “This housing could be anywhere from six to 12 months of transitional housing, free of charge to those victims.”

The new wing is aimed at addressing a tough statistic among victims of domestic violence. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, victims return to their abusive partners an average of seven times before leaving for good. The main reason is that many of those trying to escape have nowhere else to go.

The new wing will have nine rooms, with six of those rooms built for families. It is named “Sylvia’s Safe Haven” after the center’s late board of directors member Sylvia Duke.

“Our hope is that this wing will prevent them from returning to their abusers,” Duke’s granddaughter Heather Pocic said. “If they have a year to save up and work and go to school, they won’t need to return to their abusers.”

For Pocic and her husband Ethan, a former LSU football standout and NFL Cleveland Browns player, the Iris Center and Sylvia’s Safe Haven are a family affair. It’s something very much echoed by her aunt and uncle, Rickie and Stacy Duke.

“It’s just a small sliver of what my parents and my mother mainly have been able to do,” Stacy said. “She always taught us to give back and about how blessed and fortunate we were.”

Sylvia passed away from Covid-19 complications in 2020. Her loved ones made donations to the Iris Center after her passing. Her family says they knew they wanted to continue the work Sylvia was so passionate about.

Her legacy now lives on in the new wing, which was designed to provide survivors with more options.

“We want it to be like an apartment instead of being like a shelter,” Heather said. “That’s one of my favorite things about this center. It doesn’t seem like a shelter. To me, it seems like a home.”

The center also has a store where women can purchase clothing, personal hygiene items, and cookware.

The Iris Center has helped thousands of women and children over the past 40 years. Currently, the center serves more than 5,000 women and children across eight parishes by providing emergency shelter and a shot at a second chance.

Louisiana ranks second in the nation for homicides related to domestic abuse. And every minute in the United States, roughly 20 people are physically abused by their partner.

If you need help, you can call the Iris Center’s 24-hour crisis hotline at 225-389-3001 or (800) 541-9706.

If you would like to volunteer, you can reach out to the center by going to StopDV.org. The center also takes monetary donations.

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