Harmony House thanks city

Published 8:14 pm Friday, September 28, 2018

Usually, when a local nonprofit comes before the LaGrange City Council, it is to ask for support, but on Tuesday, Harmony House Domestic Violence Shelter turned that expectation on its head by coming forward to thank the city for allowing the group to help the community for years. 

“We are touching lives, and we are making a difference,” Bedingfield said. “That is just what I want you to know. [The LaGrange City Council] was one of our very first supporters. When we first came and sat down with the council way back then, y’all were the ones who believed in us. So, I just want to say thank you.”

Harmony House receives funding from a variety of sources including the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, but local funds from the city and the annual dragon boat race fundraiser are critical to maintaining funding, according to Bedingfield.

“When we all work together, we can make a difference in our community,” Bedingfield said.

According to Bedingfield, Harmony House has sheltered 1,500 people since opening its doors in 2004. She said 42 percent of the people sheltered were from the community and 18,000 people received services from the shelter. The Troup County Domestic Violence Task Force recently won task force of the year in Georgia and hosted a conference to improve community education earlier this week.

Harmony House took 890 crisis calls last year, according to information released in the meeting. Prior to Harmony House’s existence, those crisis calls would have gone to the local 911 center. Bedingfield said that was not the only way that Harmony House has expanded over the years though.

“We do our shelter services, which is what we started out with. We have 14 beds,” Bedingfield said. “We moved from there realizing people need support services before they come into the shelter, and they may need them after they leave the shelter, or they may never need our shelter after all. So, we started what we call outreach. From there, we started working with sexual assault victims. We realized that 80 percent of our victims have been sexually assaulted or raped at some point in their life, so we are the sexual assault advocates who partner with the police department, the sheriff’s office, the child advocacy center, and we show up on the scene when you are at the hospital or at the child advocacy center.”

Harmony House is also now focusing on prevention by ensuring that local teens know how to recognize signs of dating violence and other unsafe situations.

“The biggest hat we wanted to put on was that prevention piece. So, four years ago, we were approved by the Troup County School Board,” Bedingfield said. “So, we actually go into the school system, and we talk to kids at any age. Our main focus is ninth grade… We go into the health classes and talk to them regarding dating violence — what does it look like, how do you recognize the signs to approach your friend. When is it just a pesky someone who won’t leave you alone, and when is it something really serious?”

Council Member Nathan Gaskin asked if Harmony House worked with victims of sex trafficking. 

“The reason that it comes up in my mind is Atlanta is gearing up for the Super Bowl, and they say that all these resources are coming to Atlanta, us being on the periphery,” Gaskin said. “I can only imagine the things that are going to get pushed out to the outskirts, so I can see us being a targeted area.”

Bedingfield confirmed that Harmony House does work with sex trafficking victims and offers training on the topic. She said the shelter had served at least 10 sex trafficking victims in the last year that she knew of. However, she also noted that specialized care may be necessary for those victims that would not come from Harmony House.

“It is definitely happening here in Troup County,” Bedingfield said. “It happens, and it happens on a regular basis. I was actually doing a training [Monday] on human trafficking, so there are programs through Rotary. We are going to be doing some education and awareness through the school system. We are going to start preparing people. As far as shelter, we will provide that shelter and that immediate emergency care, but we are not that long-term place that they need.”

To learn more about Harmony House, visit Harmonyhousega.org.