HOUSTON - Alarming numbers show that more domestic violence victims are turned away from emergency shelters because of a lack of space.
In November of last year, 58-year-old Maria Esmeralda realized her husband at the time was not the man she thought she’d married.
“He wanted to take control. I was not allowed to leave the house. I was not allowed to speak to my family. He started to say your family can’t come over, your family can’t come visit. And then he started that if you ever decide you ever try to leave, I have a gun. There’s two bullets in the gun-- one for me and one for you. And that’s gonna be all,” said Esmeralda.
After more than a year of threats and verbal abuse, Maria said she tried to escape many times.
However, because her situation never turned violent, Maria said she was repeatedly turned away from local women's shelters. But she's not the only one.
Emilee Whitehurst, CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, said the data is alarming.
“For Harris County it's something like 78 percent of people get turned away which is just unfathomable and unacceptable,” Whitehurst said.
HAWC currently has 120 beds at their emergency residential facility.
It’s the same amount of space they've had since 2002, despite Houston's rapid population growth in recent years.
Due to the lack of space, victims that appear to be in the most danger and who don't have family in the area get priority, according to Whitehurst.
“In our case, of every 10 people that call, we can house 3. We can make referrals for 2 or transportation for 2, but 5 are turned away. When i say turned away, we do a lethality assessment or a danger assessment, which is evidence-based and actually a tool a lot of law enforcement agencies use,” Whitehorse said.
However, the organization emphasizes that there's always help and resources available.
“If you invest in people when they want to get out and change their lives, they are ready and able to transform from being a victim to a survivor, you will have generational impact,” said Whitehurst.
If you believe you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, there are several hotlines you can call Houston Area Women’s Center: 713-528-2121, or the 24/7 toll-free hotline: 1-800-256-0551.