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The Family Place: Advocating for Social Change to Stop Family Violence

By Yulia Idemenko
June 28, 2021
The Family Place family
The Family Place provides services needed to help victims become survivors. (Photo credit): Judy Walgren

How a domestic violence service provider empowers victims by providing safe housing, counseling and skills needed to live lives free of abuse.

Every single minute, nearly 20 people on average, both men and women, are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. Annually, that’s more than 10 million people. Moreover, 1-in-4 women and 1-in-7 men have been the victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. One-in-15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. On a typical day, domestic violence hotlines nationwide receive more than 20,000 phone calls.

In the state of Texas, a staggering 38% of women have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime, and, in 2019 alone, 185 Texans were killed by intimate partners.

The Family Place, an East West Bank community partner, provides services needed to help victims become survivors. What started as a single hotline and one of the first family violence shelters in Texas for abused women and children is now the largest family violence service provider in Texas. The nonprofit organization, which was founded in 1978 by a group of volunteers, runs three emergency shelters that provide 177 shelter beds each night, including the state’s only shelter for men and children, and three counseling centers.

Getting families on the path to recovery through supportive services

“Our families come to us with so many layers of problems,” says Melissa Sherrill, vice president of development at The Family Place. “It’s our job to first and foremost protect them, help them overcome the trauma that they've experienced, and guide them on a path to recovery.”

To accomplish that, The Family Place offers a 24-hour crisis hotline in both English and Spanish, counseling for adults and children, medical and dental care, children’s educational services, job and life skills training for adults, legal services, and an animal shelter for dogs and cats. The agency also has a transitional housing program that helps victims rebuild their lives in extended-stay apartments, as well as other supportive services. In 2019, The Family Place served 11,933 clients.

The Family Place
(Photo credit): Judy Walgren
“Our families come to us with so many layers of problems. It’s our job to first and foremost protect them, help them overcome the trauma that they've experienced, and guide them on a path to recovery.”

-Melissa Sherrill

The Family Place also provides a Battering Intervention and Prevention program that teaches batterers how to identify, challenge and change their core beliefs that perpetuate violence.

“Although you might have removed the victim from the situation, if we are not directly working with the batterer to reform their behavior, they are most likely to do it again to another person,” says Sherrill.

The COVID-19 effect on domestic violence and operations

Right before Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered a statewide shutdown in March 2020, The Family Place had a big influx of calls to the hotline. Victims were calling in to get help and make safety plans (a set of actions that can help lower the risk of being hurt by an abuser).

“Once we were in the strict lockdown,” says Sherrill, “it got eerily quiet, and we knew things had to be terrible for people locked in their homes with their abusers.”

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reports of domestic abuse and family violence have increased around the world. As quarantine measures and stay-at-home orders were imposed in the U.S., individual states reported increases in domestic abuse incidents ranging from 21% to 35%. A study conducted in Dallas County has shown a 12.5% jump in domestic violence incidents in just the three-week period after the county’s stay-at-home order went into effect, compared to the prior three-week period.

“When some of the COVID precautions were loosened a bit, people started calling the hotline from Walmart, Walgreens, and wherever they were getting their groceries,” says Sherrill. “We helped them with safety plans, and when it was a life-or-death situation, we knew they needed to get out right away.”

While domestic violence services were down by 40% across the state of Texas due to COVID-19, The Family Place was one of the only domestic violence service providers in the state that remained open to clients who needed care. The organization also pivoted and started doing telehealth services, giving clients another option to connect with The Family Place.

“This [telehealth] is one of the silver linings that came out of COVID, and we are having great success with it,” says Sherrill.

Weathering the Texas winter storm

Just when The Family Place began seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and COVID cases began to decline, a winter storm hit Texas with a vengeance. The state faced record low temperatures, making roads impassable and the state’s electric grid inoperable, leaving millions of people without access to electricity.

The Family Place’s 60,000-square-foot Safe Campus, which housed 123 women and children at that time, began experiencing rolling blackouts. Then the pipes burst, cutting off heat and power. With the help of the local community, the staff moved everyone into a church, only to have the pipes there burst, too, pouring water through the ceiling. “It was so terrible,” recalls Sherill.

The city stepped in and transported the families to a hotel, where the organization was able to continue providing their on-site supportive services. Some of the families have been living at the hotel since February and will stay there until mid-July.

Damages from the winter storm
Damages the Safe Campus endured from the winter storm. (Photo credit): The Family Place

“You can imagine how difficult it would be to be stuck in a hotel room with young children, without an outdoor space,” says Sherrill. “Yet these families, having already gone through a lot, are just so thankful to have a place to lay their heads at night that is safe.”

Having supportive partners like East West Bank

After learning about The Family Place, the work it does for the community, and the extensive damage to the facilities due to the storm, Jeff Matthews, senior vice president of commercial banking in Dallas, and Michael Burr, head of commercial lending at East West Bank Texas region, offered to help; they made a charitable donation of $10,000 to The Family Place on behalf of East West Bank to help bridge the financial gap while the facilities get repaired. The funds are being used to pay for emergency expenses, food, transportation, clothing costs and additional supplies, most of which were ruined when the ceilings fell in the Safe Campus’ storage rooms during the storm.

“In an extraordinary time during COVID, The Family Place experienced a dramatic increase in demand for its services. As they strived to protect women and children, the winter storm ravaged their shelter. It is an honor on behalf of East West Bank to donate toward the restoration of the shelter and support The Family Place as it protects families from violence and helps them heal,” says Matthews.

“We are so thankful for our partners like East West Bank for coming in and supporting us with the immediate funds that we needed, especially so early on, so that we could continue helping victims without interruption,” says Sherrill.

Michael Burr and Jeff Matthews making a charitable donation on behalf of East West Bank. (Photo credit): The Family Place
“We are so thankful for our partners like East West Bank for coming in and supporting us with the immediate funds that we needed, especially so early on, so that we could continue helping victims without interruption.”

-Melissa Sherrill

Additionally, East West Bank is planning volunteer events with The Family Place, such as the upcoming Family BBQ Day, where East West Bank volunteers will cook for the residents and kids once they move back to the Safe Campus. “These events will serve as a great way for people to have some normalcy and will be very healing for the community,” says Sherrill.

Future outlook

Despite the challenges, The Family Place is looking for the silver lining and using the opportunity to improve the buildings and make them energy efficient, which will save money down the line.

“I think a lot of nonprofits would have had a really hard time bouncing back from these circumstances,” says Sherrill. “But thanks to supporters like East West Bank that helped and backed our efforts during this difficult time, we continue to provide these wonderful services that are greatly needed in the community.”

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