It has been a brutal summer for victims of family violence. For the first time in the 34-year history of The Family Place in Dallas, Texas, we will shelter 113 people, including 38 women, 73 children, and two men. A mom and her young child are being transported right this minute by the Dallas Police Department because of the dangerous violence in their home.
We’ve had to place some families in hotels because it is more than we have bed capacity to handle, but their lethality risk was too great to turn them away. My colleagues at other emergency shelters in Texas are experiencing the same overwhelming demand. The shelter in Arlington is putting up cots in their gymnasium. We are setting records we wish we never had to reach.
All this is happening at a time when some Texas politicians report that things are going great in the Lone Star State. The women who are struggling to keep their kids alive would not agree with that perspective.
Yesterday I met Sarah. She had been living in a hotel with her two autistic sons because her abusive husband had lost his job and they’d been evicted from their apartment. She put up with the abuse for years so her kids would have stability and a roof over their heads, but the recent pain was too much for her to bear. We’ve got her in a safe place for now, but finding a job that pays enough to cover her specialized child care needs and living expenses is going to be very difficult.
Last month I met Mary. She moved to Dallas in 2009 to escape a 15-year marriage to a minister who was well respected in the community. Her employer provided transportation to Dallas to escape her husband’s extreme physical and emotional abuse. Her plan was to live on unemployment until she found a new job. Unfortunately, she was denied unemployment because the state where she had previously lived does not recognize the fear associated with domestic violence as a valid reason to leave employment. To make matters worse, Mary has high blood pressure. Her medical insurance from her employer was good for one month, but she can’t afford COBRA’s high monthly fee. Without insurance, she can’t afford the cost of a medication refill. I hope she’s healthy enough to find a job and keep it.
And I can’t stop thinking about Gloria. During an abusive rampage, her husband shot and killed her brother who was trying to protect her. Her two little boys witnessed this horror, but managed to escape by jumping out of the bathroom window. Gloria’s husband kept her trapped in their marriage by not letting her become a legal resident. He didn’t want her to gain independence from him because he was afraid he would lose her.
"Save America, Vote!" reads the sign in the yard of a politically-opinionated neighbor. What good will that do? If we send someone new to Washington DC, will they take action? Will a new Senator or House Representative reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)? Since 1994, this critical law has provided funding for shelters, saved thousands of lives, and helped reduce partner violence against women across our country. The number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34 percent for women and 57 percent for men; the rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased 53 percent in the years since the law was enacted. Today, this effective law is a political football, languishing on the desks of Congressmen while agencies such as ours struggle to shelter every person who needs it.
Come on Congress: Where are your "family values?"
In my 20 years of working to stop family violence in our community, I have seen thousands of courageous women and children escape to a better life. They couldn’t have done it without the financial support of caring individuals. Find a shelter in your town. Help feed and clothe these families. Provide enriching activities for the children. Bring your gently used baby stroller and car seat to help a new mom in the shelter transport her baby home.
Call your representative, get mad, get active, and tell politicians to do their jobs and reauthorize the VAWA before the situation gets even worse.