A nonprofit in Wilkes County that provides victims of domestic and sexual violence with safe shelter while helping them build a better future for themselves and their families ceased operations today.

Sheltered Aid to Families in Emergencies (SAFE) Inc. maintained a vital presence in the community for four decades and the abrupt announcement this week of its closure Friday caught many by surprise, even those who were aware of the agency’s ongoing financial difficulties. It was disturbing news.

SAFE’s closure is a huge loss in a county with an excessive number of domestic and sexual violence cases. There were 297 domestic violence protective orders issued through the Wilkes Clerk of Superior Court’s office in 2019 and 45 so far this year.

For a long time, SAFE’s 24/7 shelter has provided a place of refuge and hope for victims of domestic and sexual violence and their children. The shelter and its services, as well as SAFE’s other services, have helped hundreds if not thousands of women regain their independence instead of remaining trapped in a prison of dependency on abusive men.

There are many questions about the causes of SAFE’s current financial situation and why it was necessary for it to close down so abruptly. It appears to be related to issues involving SAFE’s compliance with financial reporting requirements and the impact of this on some of the agency’s funding sources.

The public has every right to expect a full explanation, but the more immediate concern is working to mitigate adverse impacts of SAFE’s closure.

It’s good to know state officials are helping to identify other service providers for continued and uninterrupted support of domestic violence and sexual assault victims in Wilkes. It sounds like a plan is coming together for dividing the services among other agencies.

Wilkes Sheriff’s Office deputies have been provided with names and phone numbers of shelters in adjoining counties for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault so they can know where to take people as needs arise in their cases.

These other shelters include Shelter Home of Caldwell County at 828-758-0888, Oasis in Watauga County at 828-264-1532, A Safe Home for Everyone (ASHE) in Ashe County at 336-982-8851 or 336-246-5430 and Shepherd’s House (336-786-1420) and the ARC (336-527-1637) in Surry County.

At this point, it appears that SAFE’s 24-hour crisis help line – 336-838-SAFE (7233) – remains functional to connect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault with the help they need.

Jonathan Perry, managing attorney for the Boone office of Legal Aid of North Carolina Inc., said he wants victims of domestic and sexual violence in Wilkes to know they can call his office for free legal services related to violence committed against them.

The important thing is to not let the closure of SAFE, despite its importance in responding to domestic and sexual violence, result in victims of this abusive behavior feel or become even more trapped.

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