Linda (not her real name) came to the Family Safety Center (FSC) with her three-week-old infant after her intimate partner jumped on her and beat her. It wasn’t the first time he had beat her, but it was the first time she decided to seek emergency shelter. By the time a victim contacts Family Safety Center in the midst of a crisis, one issue weighs heavily on her mind: “Where will I sleep tonight? I have to go where he can’t find me.”
The average victim attempts to leave a violent situation eight times before succeeding. Approximately 22% of the victims who seek help from FSC each month need immediate shelter. Some victims can’t escape to the home of family or friends for fear the abuser can track them down. That’s what happened to Linda: her abuser found her, and convinced her to come back. Emergency shelter allows victims to find safety apart from the places they normally frequent which are the first places an abuser will go to find them. FSC offered Linda and her baby the safety and distance they needed.
On leave from her job, Linda was a 38-year-old new mom, with no income and few options. Linda worked with her FSC navigator to obtain an ex-parte order, an order of protection issued temporarily and in emergency situations. She was given food, formula, an emergency supply of diapers and other basics, and sent to a hotel. While she waited for a court date to receive an order of protection, the hotel was a safe haven.
Eventually, the Navigator put her in touch with a partner agency where Linda qualified for an apartment and some rent assistance. Today Linda is working, living on her own, and her now nine-month old son is thriving.
FSC has arrangements with a few area hotels and operates several apartments to provide victims with safe shelter. More traditional group shelters are not a solution for everyone, and communities across the country are looking for ways to serve an increasingly diverse victim population. Some group shelters do not accept adult males or males over the age of 12 and others are not welcoming for members of the LGBTQ community.
FSC Emergency Housing Manager Priscilla Blackmon says the different housing options give FSC more flexibility. When someone calls the hotline in the middle of the night there is no time to wait for paperwork at a community shelter so the hotel room fills the immediate need. Depending on the abuser’s situation, whether they are incarcerated or not, a victim may ask to be transferred from one location to another because they are concerned for their safety. “It’s all about making sure our clients feel safe,” says Blackmon.
More work remains
The Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs, which provides funding for FSC’s housing program, has commended the Center for its innovative approach to emergency shelter, but the reality is that Memphis and Shelby County have a serious shortage. “It is an ongoing challenge,” says Olliette Murry-Drobot, FSC executive director. “The FSC believes that DV victims and DV survivors should have a variety of shelter and housing options spanning from a night at a hotel to homeownership opportunities. It is critical that FSC and other partners work collectively to provide a continuum of viable options,” says Murry-Drobot.
Ways to help
Clients who need housing also need basics like food, toiletries and diapers. “Just think of a typical family with five children, two in diapers, three in school, who leave their home abruptly often after police have been called to a disturbance,“ says Blackmon. “What would that family need? We prepare boxes for them with basic necessities to try to get them through the first few days.” FSC lends ongoing support throughout their stay in a shelter until families get settled.
FSC accepts donations of food, toiletries, diapers, and bus passes. Clients are sent to other community agencies for clothing. Financial donations are also accepted. To learn more about how to get your organization involved or how you can help as an individual, please visit familysafetycenter.org.