01/09/07 — Lighthouse shelter staff gets notices of closure

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Lighthouse shelter staff gets notices of closure

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 9, 2007 1:56 PM

The Lighthouse of Wayne County will not reopen -- not in its current form and not under the management of organization's board of directors.

"The Lighthouse will remain closed until another agency opens the doors," board member and spokeswoman Cindy Sanford said. "We're working closely with another agency to reopen the safehouse."

With the board of directors having officially made its decision that the organization cannot reopen, all employees have received termination notices.

"Please accept this as notification that your employment status with the Lighthouse has changed from 'indefinite layoff' to 'terminated' effective December 18, 2006. This decision is based on the unresolved financial difficulties the Lighthouse has experienced," read the letter, which is signed by Lighthouse Board Chairman Wayne Gow.

According to the Lighthouse's 2004 and 2005 audit reports, those financial difficulties stem from a lack of oversight, which led to the organization owing the Internal Revenue Service about $70,000 in unpaid payroll taxes, penalties and interest.

And while the organization is reported to have that debt down to about $900, Mrs. Sanford explained that the burdens it created will not allow The Lighthouse to continue to operate.

But there does appear to be a plan in the works to save the domestic violence shelter.

"The County will be handling management and opening operations as soon as possible," the letter continued.

Mrs. Sanford, however, would not elaborate on what that might mean.

And County Manager Lee Smith would only say: "The county is extremely interested in having a shelter in Wayne County. It is an absolute necessity to provide a safe haven to women and children involved in domestic violence, and we will do whatever is necessary to work with such a program and hope to see the shelter reopen at some time in the future."

For former employee Rosemary Routa, it's a frustrating situation.

"We are looking for some kind of resolution. We need resolution," she said. "I know the people in this community have a vested interest and I think the community deserves an answer. I know they've said it was not malfeasance and just mismanagement, but who is responsible?

"They've investigated an awfully long time, so what is the end result? I think that people need to know."

But, she continued, it is good news that the board seems to be working to find a way to ensure domestic violence victims will be taken care of in the future.

"We need to know what to tell clients from the general population of Wayne County. We're getting calls at home," Mrs. Routa said. "Domestic violence and sexual assault are problems that do not go away in any community.

"Where do these clients go? If they have questions, where do they call? There's still victims out there that need help. A lot of women are wondering, I've heard, 'Where is someone to sit with me in court?' They all need advocates, and they need a voice. Many times they can't speak out for themselves."

And right now, even though help is still available, it has become harder to access.

The former Lighthouse phone number is no longer operational, but women in need of those services can call the Eastpointe Mental Health crisis hotline at 1-800-913-6109 for help. From there, Eastpointe representatives can direct them to the appropriate resources, including shelters in surrounding counties that have been opened to Wayne County residents.

But for those looking for help, knowing there is and will be a place they can turn is important, Mrs. Routa said.

"That's good that they at least have a working number that they can call. They need to be given hope. The biggest four-letter word in all of humanity is hope -- hope that there will be a place to go in four to six months, a new crisis center in two months ... ."

There is, however, no timeline for when the shelter might open its doors again.