Nonprofit FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center in Humble—which serves victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual assault—provided emergency shelter to 680 individuals in 2018.
FamilyTime officials said their intake is not the number they focus on. Instead, it is 1,037, the number of people they had to turn away from the shelter last year due to lack of space, said Susan Meinholz, the president of the board of directors at FamilyTime.
“People often ask me what happened to [the people we turned away], and honestly we don’t know,” she said. “We always give them referrals to other shelters, but really all the other shelters in the area are having the same problem.”
In its Honoring Texas Victims summary report released in October, the Texas Council on Family Violence reported 211 individuals—174 of whom were women—were killed by their intimate partners in 2018. Data showed a 27.9% increase from 2017, when the report showed 136 women were killed by their male partners.
As the number of domestic violence homicides rise in Harris and Montgomery counties, local nonprofits, such as FamilyTime, aim to expand their shelters to increase intake, while county officials allocate more resources toward domestic violence.
Thecia Jenkins, training director with the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, said the number of individuals in abusive relationships is even higher than data shows, as 33% of people will never reach out to law enforcement or go to shelters.
“We have a tendency to think that this issue only lies with individuals who are in poverty, and I can assure you ... domestic violence is an equal opportunity provider,” she said.
A rise in homicide reports
The Texas Council on Family Violence is a nonprofit organization tracking the number individuals who die each year at the hands of intimate partners. The organization’s reports showed Harris County has consistently led the state in highest number of domestic violence homicides. In Harris County, 42 women were killed by their male intimate partners in 2018, according to the report.
Mikisha Hooper, family violence services manager at the Texas Council on Family Violence, said Harris County’s rates had previously not seemed unusual due to the county’s high population.
The county’s per capita rate—or the number of deaths per 100,000 female residents—had not been the highest statewide. However, Harris County experienced a 40% increase in the number of homicides between 2017 and 2018, bringing the per capita rate to 1.8 per 100,000 residents, she said.
Hooper said Hurricane Harvey may have contributed to the county’s unusually high per-capita rate, as the August 2017 storm interrupted services at family violence centers and created economic instability and stress on relationships.
“We hear people say often, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’” she said. “It doesn’t reflect the full complexity and risk and danger around leaving an abusive relationship.”
Meanwhile, three Montgomery County women were killed by their partners in 2018. Echo Hutson, family violence chief and assistant district attorney at the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, said the county aims to increase local awareness.
“Any murder is too much,” she said. “What we want to do is increase awareness so that people know that there are other ways out other than violence.”
It took Kelly Aceves 18 years, a broken back and nose, a fractured skull, and the loss of several teeth before she gained the courage to take her two daughters and leave her abuser.
After being brought to the FamilyTime shelter by local law enforcement officers in 1999, Aceves said her counselor could not understand why she returned to her husband. Aceves said she not only feared he would kill her if she left, but she was undergoing chemotherapy for stage 3 cancer at the time.
“I kept going back to him, and they told me that eventually I’ll get tired—and I did,” Aceves said.
Allocating more resources
Local entities have taken steps to increase awareness and provide more resources for victims of abuse.
Michael Kolenc, a spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said the office received a two-year grant of $2.65 million in October to continue offering a mobile crisis intervention team, which launched in January. The team goes to the scene of high-risk domestic violence cases on weekends, and consists of staffers specially trained in safety, crisis intervention and the dynamics of domestic violence, he said.
The Montgomery County DA’s Office is also in the process of developing a similar team, which it hopes to debut countywide in 2020. Hutson said the team would include county law enforcement, medical professionals and victim advocacy groups.
But Jenkins said she believes the Greater Houston area could do more to provide adequate safe housing for those fleeing abusive relationships.
“There are only about seven shelters in the area, and it may be a little bit over only about 300 beds serving Houston and the surrounding Harris County,” she said.
FamilyTime launched a campaign in 2018 to raise roughly $5 million to build a second shelter in the Humble area to meet the growing needs of the region. The nonprofit has raised $570,000—enough to purchase 3.5 acres of land in April—and hopes to break ground on the shelter in May 2022, Meinholz said.
The current shelter can hold between 33-35 people at a time, she said. The second shelter will have enough room for 75 people—more than tripling the organization’s capacity. The shelters’ locations were not disclosed to protect those seeking shelter from their abusers.
“[Some people think] that it doesn’t exist here in Kingwood, that it’s a problem in the cities, it’s a problem in the lower socio-economic areas—and, obviously, that’s not true,” Meinholz said.