Harbor House Catholic Charities has provided an emergency safe-haven for victims of domestic violence in Wichita since 1992.

For those fleeing an abusive relationship, or in need of support, Harbor House provides a variety of resources to help victims navigate past or current trauma.

Those seeking assistance from Harbor House first must speak with an advocate at the 24-7 emergency hotline. Ultimately, they would be brought on-site to Harbor House’s (undisclosed location) shelter.

Harbor House provides all services free of charge. “Everything is voluntary, confidential, and free,” said Harbor House Director Keri McGregor.

Harbor House is a six-week program, but can extend beyond that timeline, depending on the circumstances. In order to qualify, an individual must meet an imminent-risk-lethality threshold. Questions related to this center around the level of physical abuse, threats, intimidation, and (abuser) access to weapons. If an individual answers yes to the majority of the questions, they would be deemed high-risk for lethality, resulting in the need for a safe-haven.

“We have the ability to extend beyond the six weeks, depending on the person’s barriers, or the resources they have,” McGregor said.

“The average length-of-stay is around four-to-five weeks. We have some people that will be here three-to-four months, and some that rotate out within a couple of weeks. It’s just based on the resources and support they have.” Harbor House’s maximum capacity in-shelter is 40, with 12 total rooms.

McGregor added that basic necessities include food, shelter, and clothing. “People come in with very few items. We can help them with identification, employment, and long-term housing plans.”

Advocates will guide residents through their next steps of recovery, which may include setting up doctor appointments for overlooked medical needs. “If they haven’t been to a doctor in a long period of time, or haven’t sought out medical treatment, we can help them with that,” McGregor said.

Harbor House is also engaged in community outreach, so individuals are not required to come to the shelter to qualify for the program.

“We would meet them out in the community at a place that’s safe for them, and give them the exact support as we would in-house,” she said.

McGregor has been employed by Harbor House for 10 years, serving in the capacity of director for the past five. McGregor said Harbor House has made tremendous strides in serving the community over the past several years.

“We have come so far in our collaboration with other community partners — law enforcement is a big one,” she said.

McGregor noted that each of their community-response outreach teams meet monthly with advocacy agencies, law enforcement personnel, court officials, and medical advocates.

“Just getting around the table, and discussing what are our barriers, and how do we make our services better?” she said. “That is something that we have been doing really well for the last five years.”

McGregor added that more recently Harbor House has collaborated with the Wichita Police Department to develop a lethality assessment protocol.

“When law enforcement officers actually go out on scene, they now have cell phones in their cars (via grant funding) that will allow the survivor to get on the phone, with an advocacy agency at that moment,” McGregor explained. “And we now have the resources to place them in a hotel, or another emergency accommodation if we are at capacity. So that’s been a really great milestone for our program.”

McGregor said “over-time” she has seen a rise in numbers related to individuals seeking assistance from Harbor House, and that “things have definitely gotten worse” on the domestic violence front.

“I think our awareness is a lot better,” she said. “Every organization that works to prevent this type of crime, we are making our services more (accessible) to the community. So people are reaching out, they know that we exist. Accessibility is there, so I think people are reporting it and coming forward more. But I do think that violence is getting much worse.”

Added McGregor: “We have people in here right now with such significant injuries that they can’t even really leave the property at the moment, unless they are seeking medical care. So I think the extent of the injuries we are seeing are getting much worse, especially throughout the pandemic.”

McGregor said domestic violence is about power and control, but other factors exacerbate that — including stress, unemployment, children out of school, and substance abuse.

“Those things are contributing factors that make it worse for victims,” McGregor said. “Throughout the pandemic, we have seen a lot of people experience all of those things.

McGregor noted that Harbor House has partnered with Hunter Health and Wichita State University to screen potential residents for COVID-19 on-site.

“We have some pretty strict protocols in place right now around testing,” she said, including both staff and clients. “We do a lot of social distancing, and mandate mask-wearing in public areas — so we’ve had to modify what we’ve done.”

McGregor said she’s pleased that Harbor House has been able to remain fully operational for the duration of the pandemic. “We don’t have any staff working from home,” she said. “We are all coming to work in the building, working day-in and day-out. A lot of other programs have not been able to do that. So I feel that is a unique service that we’ve still been able to provide.”

Harbor House can be reached 24 hours, 7 days per week at 316-263-6000.

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