Skip Ferguson, a Vietnam veteran, came to the Durango Community Shelter in 2012 after 17 years of “chasing around his emotions.”
After staying at the Volunteers of America shelter for several months and participating in the Veteran Transitional Housing program, he moved into his own home.
“The VOA has given me hope and my self-esteem back,” he said.
Ferguson was one of two former VOA guests to share their emotional stories of recovery at the Shelter from the Storm Luncheon at the DoubleTree Hotel on Wednesday. It was held to benefit the shelter and the Southwest Safehouse.
“We are celebrating a milestone this fall, having helped over 25,000 children, women and men in our community since we began providing services 32 years ago,” Volunteers of America Southwest Colorado Division Director Rachel Bauske Frasure told the crowd.
The Southwest Safehouse opened in 1985 because this region had the highest incidence of domestic violence of any rural area of Colorado, she said.
About half of all women attribute their homelessness to domestic violence, according to the The National Center on Family Homelessness.
“Domestic violence has been recognized as extremely dangerous, not only to the partner or spouse experiencing abuse, but also to the children caught in the middle,” Frasure said.
One of the speakers was attracted to her abuser because he showed her affection at first and kept her from drinking, but after several years of abuse, she left for her own health.
“I was beat down and degraded to the point that I thought suicide was my only option,” she said. The speaker asked to be known by the pseudonym Janice for the purposes of this story.
The physical abuse she suffered lead to the need for neck surgery, and after the surgery, she did not receive any help with daily tasks, which led to nerve damage.
“This was the last straw because my physical health meant to nothing to him,” Janice said.
She had been afraid to leave him previously because she believed she would be unable to take care of herself and she would be homeless.
Janice arrived at the VOA community shelter with clothes and less than $50. She later moved to the Southwest Safehouse and started working. The extended stay program allowed her to save money to buy a car and rent an apartment and to speak with the staff whenever she needed. She has stayed sober and is now in college pursuing a business degree.
“I know now that I am not worthless and I can accomplish anything I put my mind to,” she said.
She encouraged those in domestic violence situations to leave.
“If you feel like something is wrong, get out,” she said.
As part of the event, representatives with Wells Fargo presented the VOA with a $100,000 donation. The local VOA will receive $40,000.