Concern mounting over lack of space for domestic violence victims

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Lack of space in Houston for domestic violence victims, Deborah Wrigley reports. (KTRK)

Two weeks ago, a young mother fled to Houston with the clothes on her back and her toddler, leaving behind a boyfriend who she says abused her physically, sexually and emotionally. She says it wasn't until he tried to drive off with their child, while he was in a drug-fueled rage, that she made the decision to leave him.

"He beat me for the last time," she said, nervously rubbing her hands, and keeping an eye on the active child. She has been staying with a friend of a relative for two weeks, but even the family providing sanctuary is growing concerned for their own safety. They fear the abuser is on her trail, and so does the woman.

Calls have been made for two weeks, trying to find space at domestic violence emergency shelters, but each day, the woman says the message is the same: no space.

Gail Hays is one of those trying to help the mother and child. A former DA's investigator who saw her share of domestic violence cases, she says, "this is the story you don't see on the news, of people trying to find a safe place to hide. It becomes news after something terrible happens."

She doesn't blame the shelters, but a lack of resources for victims of domestic violence, trying to save their own lives.

There are a dozen emergency shelters in the greater Houston region. Eight of them are in Harris County, which includes one run by the Houston Area Women's Center. It has 120 beds, but at 2:00pm Thursday, the shelter was at capacity.

"It's full in the shelter and it's often filled to capacity," said Celina Guerra, who oversees the HAWC hotline. Collectively, all the area and regional shelters add up to about 680 beds, and few argue that more are needed.

The young mother was seeking a secure environment for her child and herself. She feared her ex-boyfriend, who's also the child's father, would eventually track her down.

"I'm scared he'd kill me, and hurt our daughter," she said in a trembling voice.

At noon, Hays made another call to a shelter outside Houston. This time, the person on the other end asked more questions, and asked for the person seeking shelter call directly. The woman, who reluctantly gave her name to the shelter intake worker, soon breathed a sigh of relief. Thursday evening, she and her child will be in a room at an undisclosed emergency shelter. It's another step in her long journey, but she welcomes it.

"I wish there was enough room for everyone who needs it," she said.

When her new life begins to take shape, she said she has a dream.

"I'd like to be a counselor," she told us, "so I could help women like me."

The Houston Area Women's Center advises anyone trying to seek shelter from an abuser to continue to call their hotline, stressing that space can free up at a moment's notice, and all shelters work together to try to find available space.
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newsdomestic violenceHouston
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