Friday, March 29, 2013
For the last 10 months Georgetown County has been without a safe house for women escaping domestic violence.
That will all change next month when the Family Justice Center opens its newly remodeled shelter.
The facility is desperately needed in Georgetown County, which ranks ninth out of the state’s 46 counties for domestic violence calls.
“People’s lives depend on it,” said Vicki Bourus, the center’s co-executive director. “There’s no other way to say it. Someone’s life is hanging in the balance.”
An average of 33 women are killed by their domestic partners in South Carolina every year. Only Nevada averages more deaths in the United States.
The Family Justice Center helped 400 clients in 2012, according to Beverly Kennedy, the center’s other co-executive director.
Georgetown County’s shelter closed in June of 2012 when Citizens Against Spouse Abuse, the agency that oversaw it, disbanded.
Within days, Family Justice Center officials started talking about taking over its operation. Some board members were worried the center would take on more than it could handle.
In July, center officials met with some of their partners like the sheriff, the chief of police, the solicitor, and representatives from the Department of Social Services. Those partners asked a simple question: “Who else is more qualified?”
“If we weren’t ready we were going to get ready,” Bourus said.
The shelter property is owned by the Georgetown Housing Authority. When the shelter closed last year, many people thought the house should go back to being used by a family.
Chris Woodruff, director of the Housing Authority, stepped up and decided to keep it as a shelter.
“Chris Woodruff has been a champion of holding onto this house,” Bourus said. “She knew that we desperately needed to keep it as a shelter.”
The Housing Authority started gutting the house in July and finished the renovations in February. All the costs associated with the renovations were paid for by the Housing Authority, which manages the house.
The Family Justice Center manages the services.
“It’s an amazing partnership,” Kennedy said.
Five people have been hired to staff the shelter, which is the 14th to open in South Carolina. At least one staff member will be in the shelter 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The house has three bedrooms for clients and one for staff. There is room for 11 women and children to sleep, plus a portable crib is available.
Although the Family Justice Center also helps men who are in abusive relationships, men are not allowed to take refuge in the Georgetown shelter. They are sent to a different facility.
Women who come to the shelter are given group counseling, individual counseling, court advocacy, clothing, food and medical care, all at no cost.
“Running a shelter is way more than just giving someone a bed,” Bourus said.
The shelter is not a place for women to stay in bed or sit on the couch watching TV all day.
Women are required to be out of their rooms by 9 a.m., and feed their children and get them off to school. All the women work together to prepare three meals a day.
Group and individual counseling sessions are available mornings and afternoons, and volunteers arrive to babysit after school if a mother needs time to go out and look for a place to live or a job.
“There’s something very comforting about being in a group of women that are dealing with the same issue,” Bourus said.
The Department of Social Services, which funds the shelter, allows the women to stay for up to 60 days.
Bourus said a lot of the women eventually go back to their abuser.
“Sometimes it takes two or three times at the shelter,” she said. “It’s a process, an ongoing recovery.”
Once a woman moves out of the shelter, she moves into “transitional housing” for up to a year. The Family Justice Center staff continues to provide support, usually allowing the women to stay for free at first until she gets back on her feet.
“One of the keys to long-term success for battered women is transitional housing,” Bourus said.
Georgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb recently started a program called G-MEN, Georgetown Men Endorsing Nonviolence. Cribb’s goal is to get 500 men and women to commit to donating $100 a year to the Family Justice Center.
“It’s a huge new movement, and one that I think puts a feather in not only the sheriff’s cap, but our’s as well,” Bourus said, “because it’s a new effort to really engage the community.”
Bourus and Kennedy said there are very few programs like G-MEN in the country because many people think dealing with domestic violence is “women’s work.”
“[We’re] speaking out to ask men to join us and ask men to hold each other accountable, to help each other, to talk to young men, to mentor young men, to speak to men’s groups,” Bourus said.
“Having positive male role models is so important for the children,” Kennedy said. “Just to see good men.”
Men also bring a different perspective on what society can due to stop domestic violence, Kennedy added.
Both women agree that educating young people is a good start, especially since according to the FBI, the greatest increase in reported cases of domestic violence is in the 16-24 age group.
“If we cannot be safe in our home, women, men and children, where can we be safe?” Bourus asked.
The Family Justice Center is located at 1530 Highmarket St. in Georgetown, next to the Piggly Wiggly. The center can be reached at 843-546-3926. Its website is www.fjcgeorgetown.org.
The center’s 24-hour crisis hotline number is 843-436-3733. There is also a Georgetown Rape Crisis hotline at 843-545-5198.
For more information about G-MEN, call Donna Moeller at 843-436-6066. To become a member or a sponsor, send a check payable to FJC/G-Men to P.O. Box 366, Georgetown, SC 29442.
Along with monetary donations, the Family Justice Center accepts donations of furniture and household items to help furnish transitional housing for women moving out of the shelter.
By Chris Sokoloski