A safe house for battered women, planned in Woodmont, has emotions divided: Some neighbors oppose it — or say they at least want more information about it, and others, women’s rights advocates, say the safe house is sorely needed and that Woodmont is a perfect location.

The Woodmont house, the location of which is being kept confidential, is a two-story house that the Birmingham Realty Group bought in 2012. Birmingham Group Health Services is a Valley-based social service agency that merged in recent years with Harbor Health Services of Branford to form BHcare, which provides a range of programs, including mental health, addiction and prevention services, and domestic violence services.

The Woodmont house has five bedrooms and three bathrooms, according to city records: It is 2,512 square feet.

Roberta Cook, president and CEO of BHcare, said that no more than 15 people will live in the house at any one time. They will be women, or women and their children, escaping

by Jill K. Dion

Editor

A safe house for battered women, planned in Woodmont, has emotions divided: Some neighbors oppose it — or say they at least want more information about it, and others, women’s rights advocates, say the safe house is sorely needed and that Woodmont is a perfect location.

The Woodmont house, the location of which is being kept confidential, is a two-story house that the Birmingham Realty Group bought in 2012. Birmingham Group Health Services is a Valley-based social service agency that merged in recent years with Harbor Health Services of Branford to form BHcare, which provides a range of programs, including mental health, addiction and prevention services, and domestic violence services.

The Woodmont house has five bedrooms and three bathrooms, according to city records: It is 2,512 square feet.

Roberta Cook, president and CEO of BHcare, said that no more than 15 people will live in the house at any one time. They will be women, or women and their children, escaping from abusive homes.

Even though the agency has had the house more than a year, fund raising had to be done for various renovations. Cook said fund raising is complete and now the agency will apply for permits to do the work.

“We’re not changing the layout or the look of the house,” she said.

The agency hopes the house will be ready the first of the year.

Cook isn’t surprised about the opposition, but she said she believes it is based on misinformation. The housing is temporary; usually women stay two weeks until they find permanent housing.

“They will be good neighbors, and will only be a positive influence on the neighborhood,” Cook said.

The neighbors’ concerns revolve around safety and property values, said one resident who did not want to be named.

“People in Woodmont are up in arms,” the resident said, adding they fear unwanted visits to the neighborhood from abusive husbands, and a new transient element dumped on a largely residential area. Some people also question whether the proposal conforms to the zoning allowed in the neighborhood.

Another neighbor said she believes concerns focus on safety, based on the age and structure of the house. She said some residents feel the house is not suitable as a safe house because the houses are close together and yards are very small.

“Plus, these houses are old,” the resident said. “It’s a tinderbox.”

She and others say they really just want details: How many people will be in the house, how will it be staffed?

“It sounds like we don’t want a shelter,” the woman added. “But that isn’t true. We just don’t think it’s the right place for a shelter.”

A website that carries a petition against the plan contains the following message: “Imagine up to 15 battered women, with their kids living in this house... and then imagine their boyfriends or husbands lurking in your yard stalking this house. Allowing this shelter in this location will put these women and children at risk and bring additional crime into our neighborhood.”

Louise Hebert, former co-owner of Hebert Jewelers downtown, said she is upset that people would oppose a safe house. Many years ago, Hebert ran from an abusive situation — barefoot and with two children in tow — and she believes the Woodmont house is a perfect location.

“I’ve worked with BHcare,” Hebert said. “I know the house.”

Hebert is passionate about providing safe havens for battered women because she was one. She remembers the physical and mental abuse she suffered in an eight-year marriage, and remembered thinking to herself at the time, “If I stay, he’s going to kill me and my kids.”

She left and hid at her parents’ house for a month until her ex-husband was arrested.

“This would be a safe house for maybe five women and their children who have been beaten and abused,” Hebert said. “They need peace and healing. They all have protective orders, and the probability of their abusers finding them is practically nil.”

Domestic abuse does not know socioeconomic barriers, Hebert said, explaining that she came from a fairly affluent family.

“There are more women from upper middle class homes that end up in abusive situations,” she said. “There’s no economic limit.”

Susan DeLeon, director of housing for BHcare, said there are 18 domestic violence shelters in Connecticut, and they are in all different types of locations.

“The cities end up sort of adopting the safe houses, offering to help the women,” DeLeon said. “It doesn’t take away from the neighborhood because there are regular people living in a regular house.”

“There are numerous safe houses in communities across the state, operating without notice or incident in neighborhoods just like this,” added Emily Granelli, director of community affairs and government relations for BHcare.

“By its very nature and purpose, a safe house must blend into a community and neighborhood,” she said. “We are successful when our properties are indistinguishable from any other home in a neighborhood — that means if our neighbors’ lawns are mowed and their yards are tidy, so are ours.”

Woodmont residents and BHcare are still working on plans to get together and share information. A meeting was planned for last week, but the Borough of Woodmont Warden Ed Bonessi canceled it until the residents could talk to their lawyer and get more information about permitting steps taken so far with the city.

“Once they have that information we will reschedule the meeting at the Borough Hall with representatives from BH Care to answer questions from borough residents and freeholders,” Bonessi said.

City Planner Emmeline Harrigan said the proposed use for the house conforms with the city’s definition of a single family residence: It has one kitchen and is being used by people operating a common household.

Harrigan said it’s no different from a group of 10 nurses, for example, who decide to share a summer beach cottage, or a group of students who rent a beach house while they are in school, something typically seen along East Broadway.