When Tropical Storm Harvey hit the Golden Triangle, Family Services of Southeast Texas’ shelter was flooded. They had to rebuild, relying on the generosity of several donors.
Then came Tropical Depression Imelda.
“After Imelda, we only rebuilt the transitional housing side of the building, not the shelter,” said Family Services executive director Debra Tomov.
They split the transitional housing into seven apartments to be used as a shelter and nine units as transitional housing. All the other women and children who came to Family Services for assistance were sent elsewhere in Texas. But it was clear — Family Services needed a new shelter on higher ground that wouldn’t flood.
This was how things stood at the end of 2019. When the COVID-19 made its way to Southeast Texas, things got even worse.
“When you’re stuck in a home with financial issues and you mix it with alcohol and drugs, and on top of that, people are scared to go into the shelter because of COVID, it’s the perfect storm,” said community relations direction Bonnie Spotts. “And our beds got cut into almost half because of the social distancing.”
Now Family Services needs a new shelter more than ever. The nonprofit is a haven for families in crisis, and their safe house is a refuge specifically for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Residents can stay for up to 90 days free of charge while they prepare to start a new life apart from their alleged abusers. But with the shelter in disrepair, there is only so much good the organization can do.
In the United States, a woman is abused every nine seconds, according to the American Medical Association. One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, according to SafeHorizon, and the sons who witness this abuse are two times as likely to commit violent acts against women in the future, according to the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence.
The situations the staff at Family Services see are harrowing.
“Some of them are coming to us with a torn bloody nightgown on from the night before, and they have nothing,” Spotts said. “If you’re going, ‘Dad’s fixing to kill us. Get your things and leave,’ you grab your teddy bear or maybe your pillow or blankie. You have nothing. We supply all of that.”
The shelter has diapers, baby bottles, underwear and outfits that can be picked out in a boutique the staff has set up. They have beds for adults and babies, strollers, plenty of food and partner with medical professionals to provide healthcare. They have counseling, case management and legal advocacy, among other services. They say they do all of this because having a safe place for women and children in the community to recover is essential to stopping the cycles of violence.
Tomov and her team have identified a location for a new shelter out of the flood zone, and they are fundraising to purchase the building. So far, they have received $5 million from the Jefferson County Commissioner’s Court.
“We approved it maybe two weeks ago,” said Patrick Swain, county auditor. “They’re going to pursue buying that and relocating the shelter and enhancing their capability to serve victims of domestic violence.”
The nonprofit could not express its gratitude enough.
“The commissioners took their time and really, really listened to us,” Tomov said. “They wanted to help and be here for the community to bridge that gap.”
But even with the help of the Commissioners Court, Family Services is only halfway there. They need to raise a total of $10 million, and they are actively looking for donors. They have asked the city of Beaumont for $2 million, but they haven’t finalized anything yet, according to Tomov.
The organization has been in operation since 1931, when the community banded together to provide welfare to those suffering from The Great Depression. Since then, they have evolved and narrowed their focus, but they remain trustworthy and can be relied upon to help the people who need it most.
“The people we mostly serve are poor. They’re the people that don’t have anywhere to go,” Spotts said. “These people are maybe unemployed, (with) low educational attainment, maybe living several families in a house or in low income housing already. Where are you gonna go? Who can take you and your five children? They can come to us.”
“At the end of the day, this work is about ministry,” Tomov said. “And I think there are a lot of people in our area that need ministry.”
Written by Rachel Kersey