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Area Shelters Overwhelmed By Surge in Victims Seeking Help

Courtney Collins
Children at Safe Haven's Fort Worth Shelter give examples of things they can use their hands for besides hitting: swimming, painting; holding a microphone to sing.

Several family violence shelters across the DFW area are over capacity, and have been for weeks.

While summer tends to be peak time for shelters, officials say they filled up earlier than usual -- most likely due to a bad economy.

Lunch is always busy at Safe Haven’s Fort Worth shelter, but it has been especially busy lately.

On Wednesday, this shelter had one more resident than beds, and officials say it’s the same story at shelters across Dallas-Fort Worth .

Catherine Olde: All of us, all of the shelter programs in this area in the Metroplex in general are experiencing the same thing, we are all full to capacity.

Olde is the Director of Crisis Services for Safe Haven. Between their Fort Worth and Arlington shelters, they have 174 beds for women and children. They don't turn anyone, but since May, their occupancy numbers have been between 170 and 200.

"We’ve set up cots at our gym in our Arlington facility; we’ve set up cots in our computer rooms and in our quiet living room spaces," she says.

Olde says the slow economy limits the options of those who need to leave home. When friends and relatives are struggling financially, it’s harder for them to take extra people in.

But despite the fact that shelters are full, Olde says victims of domestic abuse are largely in the dark about their options.

"What we’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg. What I hear over and over again is we didn’t know there were programs like this. We didn’t know that you existed," she says.

Safe Haven is an emergency shelter, so the average stay is about a month. They offer activities for children, as well as counseling and support groups for women. Staffers help victims of family violence sort through their options in a setting that is truly safe, which is the first step in the right direction.

"You start seeing children act like children, smiling and ready to go for the next kids’ activity. We see women who are holding themselves up, looking at people in the face; recognizing that now they have their own voice and that they can make their own choices," Olde says.

Which is why even though over-capacity shelters can be a struggle to maintain, officials say they’d rather have over flow than empty beds.

The Family Place, a shelter in Dallas, is also full to the brim. Officials there say numbers are the highest they’ve been in years.

If you know someone who could benefit from shelter services, the 24-hour crisis hotline number is 877-701-SAFE(7233).

Safe Haven Tarrant County

The Family Place

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.