VALLEY CHARITIES: AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE : Shelter for Battered Women Has Year of Mixed Blessings

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The past year has brought mixed blessings to Haven Hills Inc., a Canoga Park-based nonprofit agency that funds domestic violence prevention programs and operates a shelter for battered women.

The slaying of Nicole Brown Simpson has ironically been a boon to Haven Hills and similar organizations because it has heightened public awareness of the domestic violence problem, said Betty Fisher, the shelter's executive director.

But the publicity has also spurred increases in the organization's caseload--especially as the holiday season nears and the incidence of domestic violence increases, Fisher said. That has placed an added strain on the organization, which has seen a decrease in donations over the past year, along with a greater number of victims coming to Haven Hills for help.

A 911 tape, released shortly after the brutal death of Nicole Brown Simpson in June, detailed her cries for help. Simpson's ex-husband, former football great O. J. Simpson, has been charged with her murder and prosecutors allege that he regularly battered her and eventually killed her.

Spurred by the tragedy, the city of Los Angeles accelerated its plan to coordinate the efforts of various agencies to more effectively combat domestic violence. After the killing, various ad-hoc city committees were forged into a single domestic violence task force.

The Los Angeles City Council ordered $5 million set aside each year to provide housing for battered women, said Tamara Metcalf, the council's legislative analyst.

"I think the O. J. Simpson case has validated the whole issue of domestic violence," she said. "The attention has been there, but it has gotten more attention because of O. J. Simpson."

The tragedy has spurred an increase in the number of volunteers at Haven Hills and similar organizations, Fisher said. Twenty-two people graduated from a recent volunteer training program, compared with an average of eight in past years, she said.

"When I read about the O. J. Simpson case, I became more aware of what's going on," said one of the graduates, Esther Kaufman of Sherman Oaks, a retired registered nurse.

Fisher said she is concerned that, because of the publicity, the public will mistakenly believe that domestic violence programs no longer need donations from government and private sources. She noted that Haven Hills has seen a significant decrease in donations over last year.

"We are looking for turkeys," Fisher said. "Last year, we had them; we didn't even have to think about it."

Any government funds that come in are earmarked for certain items, such as repairs, and can't be used to buy food, Fisher said.

"This isn't the kind of money we can take and go out and buy gifts for kids," she said. "Now, I'm not complaining about that, but that's just the way it is."

There is some doubt, Fisher said, whether the agency can offer as much help as it would like to domestic violence victims this holiday season.

"Will we be able to help as many people this year as we did last year, making sure they have enough food for the holidays?" she said. "This year, it doesn't look like it."

The agency is seeking donations of cash, food, paper towels, disposable diapers, cleaning supplies, blankets, pillows and towels, she said. Anyone who would like to help should call (818) 887-7481.

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