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Housing First

news analysis
A Safe Place for Abused Women
Texas Program Offers a Chance at Independence

Listen Listen to Joe Shapiro's report

SafePlace resident Thomasina and daughters

SafePlace resident Thomasina (right) and her two daughters.

Photo courtesy SafePlace

"I never had a chance like this. It's just really important to me that I'm able to get on my own... It's just an opportunity for an open door for us."
-- SafePlace resident Caroline



SafePlace graduation ceremony

A recent SafePlace "graduation" ceremony for life skills classes.

Photo courtesy SafePlace

"Caroline... allows herself to dream. Of going back to school and becoming a nurse. Of her children, one day looking back on this, and thanking their mom for giving them a better life."
-- NPR's Joe Shapiro



Anna and her two children

SafePlace resident Anna and her two children.

Photo courtesy SafePlace

Aug. 4, 2003 -- It's estimated that at least half of the United States' homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence. Many go to emergency shelters, but when it's time to leave, they usually have few choices about where to live -- and many then make the dangerous decision to return to their abusers. In recent years, shelters across the country have been trying to change that equation. NPR's Joseph Shapiro visited one such program in Austin, Texas, called SafePlace.

One of the residents of the SafePlace shelter, Caroline, was running away from her drug-addicted husband. "He had pulled out some knives on me," she tells Shapiro. "And threw some tire chains... He would hold the door so I wouldn't go out. I think the furthest I went was next door to use the phone."

Last spring, Caroline and her nine kids moved to SafePlace. Staying there is temporary, but a small number of women are chosen to move from the shelter to the apartments just next door. It's not an ordinary apartment complex -- there are case managers, and even a school for the children. There are 40 garden-style apartments in all, secured by cameras, gates and a high fence.

Inside the complex, the residents are taught parenting skills, given job training and have a chance to go back to school. About 85 percent of residents leave with permanent place to live -- unlike a regular shelter, where half the residents leave to essentially become homeless again.

"I never had a chance like this," Caroline says. "It's just really important to me that I'm able to get on my own... it's just an opportunity for an open door for us."

But to take in Caroline and her large family, SafePlace may need to find money to hire more staff, and it would require giving two apartments to just one family. She must go through an interview process, and there's a good chance that others may be deemed more needy.

Angela Atwood, who runs the housing program, says success can be elusive for women like Caroline. "The women often feel really overwhelmed, lonely, depressed, insecure or not confident about (being) able to hold a family together and do what it takes to be on their own," she tells Shapiro. Many of the women who seek shelter here have little education and problems with drug addiction or depression. Almost all are poor, and many show the physical scars of abuse.

Nana and her twin daughters live in one of the SafePlace apartments. She found a home there after her abusive husband was arrested. "I left with two things -- I left with myself, with all my dreams I've had, and I left with my children."

SafePlace paid her rent, paid for day care -- even paid for the lessons Nana took to learn how to drive a car. And three months after moving in, Nana was accepted to medical school, with a full scholarship.

And there was happy news for Caroline, too. She was accepted into the residential apartments.

"The news seems to lift the whole family, on a wave of optimism and hope about the future," Shapiro says. "Caroline... allows herself to dream. Of going back to school and becoming a nurse. Of her children, one day looking back on this, and thanking their mom for giving them a better life."


Other Resources

SafePlace in Austin, Texas




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