(Almost) No Room at the Inn

Domestic violence shelters are bursting at the seams — but not turning folks away.
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Posted July 25, 2012 by KRISTA M. TORRALVA in News

SafeHaven increased its public awareness and education efforts after an unusually deadly year in Tarrant County last year, Hafley said.

Tarrant County had 22 family violence fatalities in 2011, leaving 20 children without mothers. Included in that statistic was the nationally publicized Christmas day shooting in Grapevine that left seven family members dead.

Hafley: “Just because we’re full, I dont want to keep women from calling.  We encourage women to call and seek help.”

Hafley: “Just because we’re full, I dont want to keep women from calling. We encourage women to call and seek help.”

When a domestic violence case is highly publicized, such as the Christmas day massacre, shelters and domestic violence hotlines tend to see a spike in requests for help, Busch-Armendariz said.

“Victims think, ‘I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want that to happen to my kids,’ ” she said. “So they start reaching out for help.”

Potasznik said that it is crucial to get word out about where women can find help.

“One of the biggest reasons people don’t get help is because they don’t know what is available,” she said. “My mission is to put SafeHaven on everyone’s lips at least once.”

Fort Worth law enforcement agencies partnered with community groups to create One Safe Place, a facility that allows family violence victims to get many of their needs taken care of in one place. It opened in March.

At One Safe Place a detective is available to take reports, along with legal aid workers for child custody battles and civil matters, counselors, and SafeHaven representatives to help victims with shelter needs.

“If they have to go to multiple locations, it’s easier to lose them, and they end up going back home. One Safe Place makes it easier and so much more likely to get out of a dangerous situation,” said Michelle Morgan, director of the center.

Nationally, shelters are making an increased effort to educate the public on what domestic abuse looks like and what resources are available for victims, Hale said.

That was the case for The Crisis Center, Hornung said. Just before their overcrowding began, the Odessa shelter ramped up its educational efforts. Almost immediately, victims flooded the center.

“There are many people who now know there is an alternative,” Hornung said. “So women [who say] ‘I don’t want to live like this, I don’t want my kids to live like this,’ now have an option.”

 

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Aida Mitchell sees women with broken bones, bloody noses, and bruised eyes nearly every day as a volunteer at SafeHaven. Talking to them reminds her of the physical pain she narrowly missed when she made the decision to leave her husband once and for all.

On that day about seven years ago, Mitchell answered a knock at her Arlington apartment to find her estranged husband, who immediately forced his way in, easily overcoming her attempts to shut the door.

“If you’re not with me, you won’t be with anyone,” Mitchell remembers him saying as he threw her cell phone down, shattering it.

Mitchell had left her husband shortly after their wedding about two years earlier, after he began verbally and physically abusing her. He had pushed her around but never left her with more than a few small bruises, though she still feared him. She had taken measures to conceal her whereabouts from him. Now he had found her apartment.

She couldn’t call for help. Her 1-year-old daughter was in the bedroom, and Mitchell knew her husband had never hurt the little girl. So Mitchell took a chance and ran to her car, heading for the police station a few blocks away at the intersection of Cooper and Division streets.

Her husband took their little girl to his car and drove after his wife. On Cooper Street, he smashed his car into Mitchell’s. He then went to the driver’s door and tried to pull Mitchell out.

“I just wanted to make it to the police station,” Mitchell said. “When I was in that car crash, I feared that my baby was going to be killed. In that moment I made up my mind that this was it.”

Mitchell’s husband eventually fled the scene. Arlington police later arrested him, and their daughter was returned to her. A police officer then took Mitchell and her daughter to SafeHaven.

Mitchell said she is now happily remarried and that SafeHaven helped her get to the point in her life she is now. The shelter provided Mitchell with transportation to and from work while she stayed there and helped her design a plan for safely getting away from her husband.

“The shelter helps people, but now the shelter needs a lot of help from people,” she said.

In addition to food and shelter, SafeHaven provides victims with counselors, social workers, and legal advocates. Consequently, SafeHaven’s financial resources are being stretched thin, and there is a greater need for volunteers to answer the hotlines, serve meals, and donate food and clothing, Hafley said.

“We’re like a really big family, so we need the things your family needs. We need it for a whole lot more people,” she said.

No matter what, Hafley said, SafeHaven turns no victim away.

“Just because we’re full, I don’t want to keep women from calling. We encourage women to call and seek help,” she said.


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