As domestic violence calls rise in Central Florida, shelter expands to meet need
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Harbor House of Central Florida is expanding its number of beds to keep up with the increased rate of abuse.
Harbor House is expanding its beds from 120 to 136 later this month. The expansion makes Harbor House the largest domestic violence shelter in Florida. The shelter has had 10,000 calls so far this year — 400 more than last year.
Domestic violence is on the rise because of different issues like COVID and inflation that are exacerbating relationships with power and control issues, said Michelle Sperzel the CEO of Harbor House.
“We're looking at even homicides that are happening here in Orange County, that also increased this past year,” she said.
Sheriff John Mina spoke alongside Sperzel during a press conference addressing domestic violence earlier this week. He said OCSO has responded to 3,500 domestic abuse calls so far this year, with about 3,300 of those incidents ending with an arrest. Mina also said the number of calls is 1,000 incidents less than the year before.
That's not surprising, Sperzel said.
"It is a very underreported crime," she said. "Not everybody wants to have law enforcement involved. They also don't want the Department of Children and Family involved. It might be that they don't want them involved because they don't think it is as bad as it is."
Sometimes a financial component holds people back from seeking help, but Harbor House is equipped to assist with such concerns.
“When someone calls and starts working with a domestic violence advocate, we can talk through a lot of those different fears. And we can talk through how we can safely plan and how we can financially, safely plan,'” she said.
Sperzel also added, that if you see someone potentially going through abuse, say something. The individual may not be ready to reach out to the Harbor House hotline, but providing patience and support can help someone greatly along their journey.
The number to call Harbor House of Central Florida is 407-886-2856. Help can also be reached by visiting the shelter's Facebook page.