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The first building for the Mary’s House of Hope transitional housing complex for women and children who are victims of domestic violence may open by March.

Sue Curfman, Comtrea’s chief executive officer, said the roof over the four-family building is expected to be installed this week.

The first building will have a one-bedroom unit, two two-bedroom units and a three-bedroom space, Curfman said.

“We’re always weather-dependent, but we’re hoping to finish construction by March,” she said. “We’re all very excited about this. This is finally happening.”

Curfman said it’s been a long process to get to this point.

“When I started with Comtrea in January of 2016, I came to learn of the severe lack of resources for domestic violence victims, not only just in Jefferson County but in the St. Louis region. It bothered me that we were unable to meet the needs of more than 1,000 women and their children each year.

“The statistics are sad,” she said. “In one in three homicides nationally, someone is murdered by an abusive partner. And women typically return to an abusive situation seven times because there are no resources available for them.”

In 2019, according to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, deputies responded to 909 domestic violence calls in unincorporated areas of the county.

Comtrea already operates A Safe Place shelter, which provides emergency housing for abused women and children, but Curfman said more was needed to ensure that a victim wouldn’t feel trapped into returning to an abusive situation once the emergency passed.

“Fortunately, our board felt the same way,” she said.

Three years ago, Comtrea started a $3.5 million capital campaign to add transitional housing to the grounds next to the emergency shelter.

“That was a real lofty goal,” Curfman said. “I know there were times when we wondered if we could do it.”

As of Jan. 6, campaign dona¬tions were at $1,418,432, with another $193,354 expected through pledges and a federal home loan that has been awarded but not paid, she said.

Curfman said three buildings, each housing four families, are planned.

“We had originally planned for four, but the geography of the area won’t allow for four units efficiently,” she said.

Kim Elbl, vice president of Comtrea, said the agency received a $300,000 grant through the Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Okla., in November, which allowed construction of the first building to start.

“It was a challenge grant,” Curfman said. “We had to get up to $1.2 million for them to give us $300,000, which put us at $1.5 million. That was a significant event. And we’ve had good support all along the way. Enterprise Bank has been a good sponsor. Twin City Toyota raised $42,125 through a raffle of a Supra. We’re hoping the momentum keeps going.”

Curfman said about $650,000 more is needed to start work on the second building.

Elbl said local businesses can earn state tax credits by contributing to the campaign. Through the Missouri Hous¬ing Development Corporation’s Missouri Affordable Housing Program, businesses can earn 55 percent of the value of a donation.

For information about donating to the campaign, call Elbl at 636-232-2339.

Transitional housing important link

Curfman said getting transitional housing up and running will be vital to providing long-term assistance to domes¬tic violence victims.

“The average stay in the emergency shelter used to be two to three months, but over the years, it’s now seven to nine months, mainly because of the lack of resources,” she said. “This is why it’s so needed. In Jefferson County, often a woman will have no place to go other than back to the abusive situation she left. We have a shortage of rental housing, and it can take quite a long time to find a job and save up enough money to get a first and last month rental payment together.”

By moving some of these families into transitional housing, it will free up space at the emergency shelter, which houses five families at a time.

The average stay in transitional hous¬ing, Curfman said, is about 18 months.

“But they’re not just sitting around while they’re there,” she said. “We help them develop an active plan. What kind of education do they need? What kinds of jobs are they qualified for? Then there’s financial education. A lot of these women, their credit ratings have been destroyed by their abuser. We’ll work with them to get them and their families to be indepen¬dent and stable.”

Curfman said Comtrea will work with Jefferson College to provide the educational services.

The transitional housing complex is named for Mary Daniels, who was killed by her estranged husband in 2010. Dan¬iels’ mother, Sylvia Daniels, and Mary’s best friend, Kristy Neuman, got the campaign off the ground, Curfman said.

Domestic violence hotlines

Comtrea officials advise those who experience domestic violence to call the agency’s A Safe Place hotline at 636-232- 2301 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for help. Both lines are open around the clock. Calls are confidential.