Sunday, March 22, 2009

Shelter offers a path to a new life

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

She watched it happen to other people.
'First my mom and then my friend. I said it would never happen. I'd never be one of them.'
But she was wrong.
'Easier said than done. It could happen to me and did. I was abused.'
Those words are from Kate, a battered woman seeking refuge in the non-profit Families in Crisis Temple shelter for victims of domestic abuse. Like all of the FIC clients, her safety is at stake, so to keep her identity secret, the Telegram is withholding her real name.
The Temple shelter was a godsend for Kate.
'Coming here meant me getting my independence back,' she said. 'And my self-esteem. I lost it for a while, but I got it back.'
'Yes, she did,' said Barbara Stephens, manager of the FIC Temple shelter. 'I was with her every step of the way. She's worked very hard.' Kate came to the shelter after a lifetime of abuse. She said family members had sexually and verbally abused her since before she turned 15, but it was the relationship with the father of her two children that drove her to FIC. He beat her, she said, and it wasn't safe for anyone who lived with him.
'Running from him and just dealing with it was what was normal,' Kate said.
If the Temple shelter hadn't been available, she said she would have stayed.
'I couldn't quit my job,' Kate said.
That's a common statement from victims of abuse, said Suzanne Armour, FIC director.
'Quitting their jobs without a guarantee of another is too big of a risk,' Ms. Armour said. 'So is uprooting their children from school. That change and the hardship that comes after can be difficult, so they think the alternative -staying - is better.'
The struggle can be long-lasting.
'On average, it takes about seven times for a person to leave an abusive relationship,' Ms. Armour said. 'The real success is when they leave for good, but FIC is here to help them along the way and give them the strength and tools they need.'
Kate nodded her head as she listed to Ms. Armour. The director's words were more than statistics.
'I've left several times,' Kate said. 'Not seven, yet. But several, and each time it didn't work.'
But that was before, when she didn't have any support or guidance.
'I've been here for five months now, and I'm a whole lot better off,' Kate said. 'I've got Miss Barbara (the shelter manager), other women who've gone through the same thing and people here to tell me where to go for help.'
In addition to providing shelter and safety, FIC provides social services for its clients.
'We help them look for a job if they need one, help them with medical care, enroll their kids in school,' Ms. Stephens said. 'And there's counseling.'
Sometimes the clients arrive at the shelter with nothing but the clothes they're wearing.
'They leave in a hurry when they're safety is at stake,' Ms. Stephens said. 'So they don't have time to grab the Social Security Card and the birth certificates.'
But the FIC case managers can them regain proper copies of those materials.
'Those are things we can help them with while they cope with the process of starting over,' Ms. Armour said.
And part of that process, Ms. Stephens said, is to develop a safety plan.
'It's most likely that their abuser is looking for them,' Ms. Stephens said. 'So we teach them to always be aware of their surroundings, know who to call for help and how to behave in the situation.'
Kate is familiar with all of these services, and she's grateful for them.
'They hooked me up with MHMR, and now I've got meds for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder,' Kate said. 'I'm keeping on track, thanks to them.'
With MHMR, Kate was referring to the Bell County Mental Health Mental Retardation Center - a non-profit help agency for mentally ill people in need.
The Temple FIC shelter can house up to 15 people. As of press time, seven were living there.
In the last 12 months, 89 people have taken advantage of FIC services - in Temple and at the sister shelter in Killeen, a larger facility that can hold up to 61 people.
'The individual units in the shelters vary,' said William Hall of Killeen, director of FIC shelter operations for both Killeen and Temple. 'If the woman is single, then it'll be a dorm-like setting were she'll have a roommate. But if she has children, then the unit will be private, more like a small apartment.'
Note that FIC services aren't limited to women. The organization's mission is to aid victims of domestic violence, female and male.
'We're here for everyone,' said Melissa Tyroch, FIC board member.
After a stay at the shelter, FIC will help their clients locate housing of their own. And Ms. Stephens said if funds from donations are available, then FIC will help with apartment deposits and first month's rent.
Clients are also welcome to participate in an after-care outreach program.
'Depending on their needs and schedule, they can come once a month or once a week for continued counseling and fellowship,' Hall said.
Kate likes the idea of this.
'It helps to be able to talk to people,' Kate said. 'It inspires you to listen and know you're not alone. It helps you not give up. Abuse is all I know, and I don't want that for my children. I'm trying hard to fix the rest of my life.'

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