Nonprofits, agencies strive for increased awareness as Harris County sees uptick of domestic violence homicides

FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center
FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center held a candlelight vigil Oct. 16 for the women killed by intimate partners in 2018. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center held a candlelight vigil Oct. 16 for the women killed by intimate partners in 2018. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Image description
Sources: National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Texas Council on Family Violence/Community Impact Newspaper
Image description
Sources: National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Texas Council on Family Violence/Community Impact Newspaper
Image description
Sources: National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Texas Council on Family Violence/Community Impact Newspaper
Image description
Sources: FamilyTime Crisis and Counseling Center, National Domestic Violence Hotline, Montgomery County Women’s Center/Community Impact Newspaper
Statewide data shows in 2018 the state of Texas had its highest number of domestic violence homicides in at least the last decade. As the number of cases rise, the stress on Lake Houston-area nonprofits and county departments increases.

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.
By Kelly Schafler

Editor, Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood

Kelly Schafler is the editor for the Lake Houston, Humble and Kingwood edition of Community Impact Newspaper, covering public education, city government, development, businesses, local events and all things community-related. Before she became editor, she was the reporter for the Conroe and Montgomery edition for a year and a half.



MOST RECENT

The rate of new cases being confirmed is still up compared to the end of April and early May. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: Weekly total of new cases falls after two weeks of increases

The rate of new cases being confirmed is still up compared to the end of April and early May.

Texas Medical Center continued to see week-over-week decreases in the total number of active COVID-19 hospitalizations but also saw a significant increase in patient deaths, the medical center reported May 29. (Community Impact staff)
Texas Medical Center sees another week-over-week decrease in COVID-19 hospitalizations

Texas Medical Center continued to see week-over-week decreases in the total number of active COVID-19 hospitalizations but also saw a significant increase in patient deaths, the medical center reported May 29.

The Willie's Grill & Icehouse restaurant in Copperfield is temporarily closed after reopening in mid-May. (Courtesy Willie's Grill & Icehouse Copperfield)
Study predicts coronavirus spike and other top Houston-area stories

Read some of the most popular Houston-area content on Community Impact Newspaper’s website from this week.

The syrup drums being repurposed into rain barrels were donated from Coca-Cola. (Courtesy Galveston Bay Foundation)
Galveston Bay Foundation to host virtual, drive-thru rain barrel workshop

The Kemah-based nature conservation nonprofit is hosting a rain barrel workshop this weekend for Houstonians thirsting for a way to help conserve the community’s water supply.

The Texas Renaissance Festival is set to resume Oct. 3 with safety guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. (Courtesy Texas Renaissance Festival)
Texas Renaissance Festival announces tentative modifications for 2020 season

In a May 28 statement, General Manager Joseph Bailey said new safety measures are in the works to comply with governmental recommendations, and an operating plan is expected to be reviewed with officials in June.

Riva Row Boat House
GALLERY: Restrictions in Montgomery County easing, but residents remain cautious

Click through this photo gallery to see how residents are slowly adapting to life during a pandemic.

The death total in Harris County now stands at 221. With 11,770 cases confirmed in the county, the death rate stands at 1.9%. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: 1 new death confirmed May 28, 8 deaths over past 7 days

By comparison, 23 deaths were confirmed between May 16-22, and 39 deaths were confirmed between May 9-15.

Harris County has fewer physicians and registered nurses per 100,000 residents than nearby Montgomery County, according to 2019 data from Texas Health and Human Services. (Community Impact staff)
Health Care Snapshot 2020: Harris County population outpaces number of physicians, registered nurses

Harris County has fewer physicians and registered nurses per 100,000 residents than nearby Montgomery County, according to 2019 data from Texas Health and Human Services.

Health Care Snapshot 2020: Harris County ranked among top 25 counties for length of life

In terms of county health in 2020, Harris County ranked among the top 25 on length of life.

Lone Star College plans to partially open 26 buildings beginning June 1. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Lone Star College System discusses reopening plan for June 1

Lone Star College plans to partially open 26 of its buildings June 1, prioritizing health science buildings.