Women’s Center, Harbor House: Programs that live on

Shown is the Marquette Women’s Center, which is located at 1310 S. Front St. (Journal file photo)

The women’s center was started in 1973 on the campus of Northern Michigan University in the Division of Continuing Education as a public advocate for victims of domestic violence both female and male. The center remained on campus at NMU until 1980. During those years several collaborative programs were developed: Joan Curto Halfway House for Chemically Dependent Women, the Spouse Abuse Task Force, the Spouse Abuse Shelter, and the sexual assault response volunteer team. In 1980, the Women’s Center moved to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Marquette and in 1986, the final move took place to South Front Street its present location. Today, the Marquette Women’s Center is the oldest continuously operating women’s center in Michigan and one of the oldest in the country. The mission of the Women’s Center remains grounded: Protect, Educate, Advocate, Counsel, Empower — or PEACE.

The first shelter — Joan W. Curto Halfway House for Women — was opened in 1977 as a halfway house for alcoholics. The women could stay for up to one year and were required to attend weekly house meetings. Most of the women came from treatment centers. The capacity of the house was six and was originally funded for two years. In 1983, the house was closed for four months while it looked for a bigger building that could house more women. It was reported that in August 1983 the Joan W. Curto Halfway House for women had moved to a new location and could now house eight residents.

By 1985, a shelter — the Marquette County Spouse Abuse Shelter — was in place to assist women and families to break away from the abuser and begin a new life. For the sake of security no information was shared that included the address of the shelter. It housed an average of four families at a time and approximately 100 women and 150 children per year. Residents could stay for 30 days, and in 1985 it housed 125 women and 160 children, with an additional 125 served through various outreach and counseling services.

In 1985, the Marquette County Spouse Abuse Shelter was the only such center in Marquette County. Today the shelter serves both men and women who are victims of physical and sexual violence. Also in 1985, a resale shop was opened to help fund the shelter and the programs offered. Called the Second Best Shop, it was located along Third Street in the same building as the shelter.

Harbor House was started in the early ’80s as a joint venture Women’s Center and the Spouse Abuse Shelter Board. The Women’s Center took control of Harbor House in 1986. At this time the spouse abuse shelter was renamed Harbor House and both the domestic violence and halfway house activities were served through the Women’s Center and Harbor House. The program currently offers shelter and the Harbor House’s outreach programs — information, counseling, support groups and advocacy.

To call attention to domestic violence needs and occurrence frequency, the Women’s Center began to report their activities for publishing in local newspapers. In 1999, the Women’s Center was awarded a large federal grant which was used to enhance existing programs and to develop an ongoing community organization that works together to assist abuse victims and educates the public about domestic violence. At the same time, the Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office received funding to more effectively prosecute crimes against women and to create a database to record information on domestic violence, stalking and personal protection orders.

Empowerment is the focus of Harbor House by providing education on individual rights and alternatives to improve current conditions. Harbor House strives to provide immediate safety if a person is in danger. Clients are expected to take part in a domestic violence support group and work with various social services agencies so they can then gain independence. General monthly workshops and groups are available to clients and to community members.

Domestic violence hits every socioeconomic level, age group and race. The purpose of the Women’s Center and Harbor House is to inform the public of the resources and programs available to those in need. A continued goal is to increase community awareness about domestic violence and the programs available including shelter at Harbor House.

Harbor House moved to its current location in October 2006 — a larger and more secure location directly across the street from the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office and the Marquette Police Department. For the first time, the address was published so as to allow victims of domestic violence to get help immediately. The Second Best Shop became Pak Ratz and moved to the rear of the building that houses the Women’s Center at 1310 S. Front St. Pak Ratz serves as a way to secure clothing and other items needed by residents and as a resale shop with revenues supporting the Harbor House and Women’s Center programs. Pak Ratz is open to the public and gladly accepts donations of apparel and household goods.