Sokolowski’s Dawn Center, House of Horrors? Women Speak Out…
HERNANDO – According to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence (FCADV) there are 42 state certified non-profit domestic violence shelters that provide temporary housing for abused women and their children.
Hernando County’s shelter, Dawn Center, has a 40 bed capacity and provides state approved counseling and some transportation needs to their occupants.
Under state law, the facility’s exact location is exempt from public disclosure to protect women from their alleged abusers.
In 2010, while under the direction of former Executive Director Grace Maineri, RNRF was granted an interview and tour of the highly secure compound. During our interview, Maineri stood her ground when faced with a battery of tough questions but she did not once decline to answer. Unfortunately, Maineri was terminated in 2011 due to growing financial troubles and a dwindling revenue stream.
The facility’s new Executive Director, Shannon Sokolowski, has certainly made an impact when it comes to increasing donor contributions, but some say the facility is a cesspool of substance abuse, violence, and other criminal activity. This year alone, RNRF received dozens of complaints from former residents, employees, and even medical staff from Oak Hill Hospital. Although most of those who voiced complaints asked to remain anonymous, Sue Matarazzo Adler, a former Emergency Room ARNP at Oak Hill Hospital had no problem going on the record with RNRF, regarding the conditions inside the Dawn Center.
Adler tells RNRF, “You should investigate the Dawn Center and ask why the ER at Oak Hill keeps getting their residents in with ODs (overdoses) and alcohol intoxication… Don’t they have any rules in that place?”
RNRF – I had no idea it was that bad. I thought those were very rare incidents.
Adler – Rare? That’s funny. We all had a conversation last night about how often they are in here and how our taxpayer money is supporting it. We have one lady who comes in sometimes 3 times a day cuz she has a seizure when she drinks and doesn’t take her medications. She comes in by ambulance and signs out against medical advice before she even gets onto one of our stretchers.
Adler went on to say, “I’m getting out of the ER because I’m sick of s**t like this day in and day out and No one seems to do anything about it… Dawn Center supporters have their heads in the sand.”
“Nina” a former resident writes “Hey Tom… I Just read your article on the dawn center (Referring to a 2014 RNRF article on equality among victims) they’re dirty… Keep digging. I lived there in 2008.”
Former resident Debrah Helm says she witnessed abuse and thefts during her stay and received very little help from the facility.
Helm says “My roommate would drink all night and end up puking all over the room… Sometimes the vomit would spill on me from the top bunk.” Staff members would joke about it, says Helm, so she started sleeping in her car.
Helm tells RNRF that one woman was trespassed from the facility after she was caught stealing and being abusive but they let her come back. “Girls who stayed wasted had no problem but allowing women to abuse women who had been abused back into the facility made no sense,” says Helm.
Helm concluded with an even more perplexing situation within the Dawn Center. According to Helm, a woman who identified herself as a man was allowed to stay in the facility with her girlfriend and her children. They later broke up and moved out separately.
More recently, RNRF received a desperate message from a 20-year-old pregnant woman currently residing at the Dawn Center, who said they are forcing her to pay $5.00 for every meal. It was her understanding that meals would be provided free of charge while searching for a more permanent situation. “Amanda” as we’ll call her, says she fled North Carolina after she was stabbed and shot at by her abusive boyfriend. She came to Spring Hill alone, penniless and hoping the Dawn Center would give her a fresh start but now Amanda says she feels like she left one abusive relationship and replaced it with another.
Amanda says she contacted RNRF because the Dawn Center has a poster with my image (Tom Lemons) and a statement that says “Do not talk to this reporter…” hanging on the wall.
Past efforts to speak with Sokolowski failed and we were asked to no longer contact the Dawn Center, so we reached out to the FCADV with our inquiry.
We spoke to Leisa Wiseman, APR Director and Communications & Government Affairs, who provided the following statement, “While I have forwarded your request to our COO who handles all public records requests, I thought it might be helpful to explain a little about FCADV’s role with Florida’s certified domestic violence centers. As the professional association for the state’s 42 certified centers we provide leadership, advocacy, education, training, technical assistance, and support to certified domestic violence centers, their community partners, and other statewide professionals to improve services, practices, and policies related to domestic violence. Each center is governed by its Board of Directors, and FCADV monitors centers for compliance with applicable statutes, administrative rules and standards.”
We asked the Sheriff’s Office provided a list of calls to service at the Dawn Center, over the course of one year, and the results were astounding. Between March 2014 and March 2015 there were 187 responses by the Sheriff’s Office. Many of those were security checks but there were several thefts, assaults, verbal disturbances, and narcotics cases, resulting in at least 4 arrests on the compound grounds.
RNRF reported on one case last year, where drinking and brawling sent one woman to Oak Hill Hospital for treatment. CLICK HERE FOR FULL REPORT
Problems like the ones presented above are not unheard of from other facilities around the country. A California woman complained about a Contra County Shelter in 2013, alleging the facility was unsanitary and that the food was outdated and stale. In an interview by ABC 7 News in San Francisco, Rachel, the victim says “I’ve seen verbal attacks from the staff and even seen them kick a woman out on the street with nowhere to go.” CLICK HERE FOR FULL REPORT
All the women we spoke to wonder how a taxpayer funded facility that brings in an average of $600,000 per year can treat women the way they do.
Only time will tell if Shannon Sokolowski will grant an interview and explain why so many women fear the very place they are suppose feel safe.
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