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Safe Futures seeking gift cards for families staying in hotels

New London — Safe Futures, which helps families affected by domestic violence or sexual assault, has launched its first-ever gift card drive for those who are staying in hotels because shelters in the state are full.

Executive Director Katherine Verano said her nonprofit long has used hotels as another option for families escaping dangerous situations — its 22-person shelter has been over capacity for seven years.

But summer brings an increased demand, she said, meaning more families, many of whom flee in the middle of the night, need clothing, food and other basics.

“When we’re hoteling a family for a while, we have to supply the same services as in the shelter,” Verano said. “We bring them here for counseling, get the kids involved in different functions, supply gifts cards for food.”

Verano said dwindling funding from the state and organizations such as United Way has made it harder to meet the need.

In a July 26 email, she asked readers to donate gift cards to Walmart, Stop and Shop, Target, Subway or Shop Rite. Preloaded Mastercards and Visas also are accepted.

Verano said Target and Walmart gift cards, which can be used to purchase food, clothing and medication, especially are valuable.

“It’s been a wonderful response so far,” she said. “This community is amazing.”

Nationally, summer and its warmer temperatures bring an increase in crimes including domestic violence, studies have shown, though researchers haven’t conclusively figured out why.

Verano said the superior courts in Norwich and New London handle “a few hundred” more domestic violence cases during the summer months than during others.

All 18 shelters that belong to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence are full, she said.

“They’re the longest days of the year,” she said. “The kids are home from school. People are outside more and consuming more beverages.”

One in four women and one in seven men nationally are victims of domestic violence, Verano said.

She said many people falsely believe they don’t know a victim.

“One of the reasons I’m here and have been for the last 24 years is that my very good friend was murdered by her husband,” Verano said. “We were all out the night before. We were so close but she never shared (the abuse) with me.”

“You do know (a victim), you just don’t know it,” she said. “It’s that private, that shameful.”

Founded in 1976 as the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut, Safe Futures offers counseling, court support services and support groups in addition to its emergency shelter.

The agency was the first in Connecticut to bring the Lethality Assessment Program, in which police determine whether victims are in danger of being killed by their partner, to area police departments in 2012.

Verano said that program also has increased the number of people seeking shelter.

Safe Futures is a member of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence and serves all 21 cities and towns in southeastern Connecticut.

Gift cards can be mailed to or dropped off at 16 Jay St., New London, CT 06320.

Call (888) 774-2900 (English) or (844) 831-9200 (Español) to reach the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s 24-hour, toll-free domestic violence hotline.

l.boyle@theday.com

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