Harmony House looks to county for help

LaGRANGE – Troup County is usually a loving community, but when women – and men – find themselves in relationships that have taken a dangerous turn, one group has continued to step forward time and time again to help those individuals find safety.

Harmony House domestic violence shelter went before the Troup County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday to request help funding its programs that provide shelter, assistance and education within the community.

“Harmony House is a domestic violence shelter, and if I could rewind time about 11 years, I would call it a program instead of just a shelter because what I have learned is that a lot of times people don’t need to come into a shelter,” said Harmony House Executive Director Michele Bedingfield. “They just need our services, so in the last 11 years we have gone from just being a 14-bed, 24-hour shelter to opening up outreach. We provide what we call outreach services.”

Those services include two advocates who help abused women and men through the process of leaving, which can prove to be the most dangerous time of all for victims.

“The majority of women that have been killed are killed when they are leaving,” said Bedingfield. “So, for her to say, ‘I can’t leave. I just need help and support,’ counseling, finances, whatever it is going to take, we are going to help her with that.”

The program also works with sexual assault victims – roughly 80 percent of the programs clients are victims of sexual assault – and takes a stand to protect both men and women in the area who are in danger of becoming at risk for human trafficking.

Additionally, the program steps in with victim advocates during hours when advocates from the District Attorney’s office are unavailable.

“So, at 3 o’clock in the morning we may be at the hospital with sexual assault victims as well as domestic violence victims,” said Bedingfield. “To break the cycle of domestic violence that would be the big picture, that is our vision, to end all forms of violence, so how do we do that? We do that through prevention.”

Harmony House works to educate school-age children – with the current emphasis on ninth graders –through its red flag campaign, which advocates saying something when you see the “red flags” of domestic violence like controlling behavior. They also talk to students about what a healthy relationship should and should not look like.

The 24 hour a day, 7 day a week program runs off 12 staff members and requested $4,225 from the county commission to help keep programs going, but with current commission discussion moving towards cutting back on services in order to afford the recommended employee pay increase, the responsibility to help fund the program and its projects is likely to fall on members of the community who feel strongly about the cause.

Harmony House hopes to raise funds through a dragon boat race at West Point Lake in July. To learn more about Harmony House, the dragon boat race, or find ways that you can help visit http://www.harmonyhousega.org