Cheri Smith, executive director of The LeeShore Center, speaks about the center’s work and services at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Cheri Smith, executive director of The LeeShore Center, speaks about the center’s work and services at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

LeeShore Center shares stats on domestic violence, gives update on community efforts

The agency aims to “promote healthy families in a violence-free community while providing a safe haven for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault”

At a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kenai on Wednesday, representatives of the LeeShore Center shared their perspective on the prevalence of domestic violence in the local community and information about the services and efforts they’re putting toward protecting victims and making a change in the community.

Cheri Smith, executive director of the LeeShore Center, said the agency has a nearly 40-year history and a stated mission “to promote healthy families in a violence-free community while providing a safe haven for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

She illuminated the need for those services by saying that one in four women experience domestic violence, 50% of homicides are domestic violence related and one in 33 men have experienced attempted or completed rape. Alaska leads the nation in these stats, she said, with a rate of child sexual assault six times the national average.

“Those are hard numbers,” she said. “I don’t really think people realize the extent of what we face.”

The LeeShore Center, she said, which has 34 beds, recently expanded to better serve both men and women at the same time. They offer a variety of services like batterer’s intervention programming, a recently expanded prevention program, provide legal advocacy and teach in local schools.

In fiscal year 2023, Smith said the shelter served 104 residents for nearly 5,000 bednights. Their transitional housing had 40 residents for just over 3,000 bednights. An average stay at the shelter is between eight and 12 weeks.

They also answered 300 crisis calls, made nearly 11,000 safety check calls and provided legal advocacy for almost 1,000 people. The educational programming reached 3,000 local students across 150 presentations.

The number of people staying at the shelter continues to rise in the years since the center saw a massive decline during COVID-19, Smith said. That doesn’t mean that fewer people were experiencing abuse. Instead, victims were potentially trapped at home with their abuser at all times as people shifted to working from home.

In FY 2019, the shelter served 155. In FY 2021, they had fewer than 60. The most recent year with complete data, FY 2023, saw around 104, but Smith said the FY 2024 numbers, which conclude at the end of this month, have likely already surpassed 150.

A community survey done by the shelter had 150 respondents, Smith said, 90% of whom believe there is a problem with domestic violence in the local community — 88% believe there’s a problem with sexual assault.

For more information, find “The LeeShore Center” on Facebook or visit leeshoreak.org.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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