FORT WORTH -- For nearly six years, Mary's husband cursed her, beat her, stole her money and threatened to kill her.
So when she decided to leave him for good last month, she said, she was dismayed to discover that all the domestic violence shelters in Dallas County were full. She had no family in the area and couldn't stay with friends because he had already tracked her down once before and forced her to return home.
"There was nothing available. Everywhere kept saying they were full," said Mary, who asked that her real name not be used. "The only option was to go back to my husband."
Fortunately, after numerous phone calls, Mary found shelter and support at SafeHaven of Tarrant County.
Mary left everything behind, and the Fort Worth shelter is helping her start a new life away from the anger and pain, she said.
"It was a relief that they accepted me," said Mary, who has started a new job and is saving for an apartment. "I'd probably have gone back to him and taken the abuse until I was able to save my money."
SafeHaven and The Family Place, the largest domestic violence shelters in Tarrant and Dallas counties, say they have seen a significant increase this summer in women who are fleeing abusive relationships. The record influx of women and children is straining the nonprofit agencies' budgets, especially when the shelters run out of beds and have to send some families to hotels, officials said.
"We don't want to turn any victim away, but options for additional space are very limited. Shelters in Dallas are full as well, so referring to other domestic violence organizations is not always possible," said Mary Lee Hafley, executive director of SafeHaven of Tarrant County.
'Prospects are grim'
SafeHaven, which has emergency shelters in Fort Worth and Arlington, served 106 more clients this June than in June 2011, a 10 percent increase. The Family Place in Dallas has seen a 15 to 20 percent increase this summer, Executive Director Paige Flink said.
Part of the reason is that larger families -- mothers with three to eight children -- are seeking help, she said.
"I think the economy is affecting people's ability to stay in their home. The prospects are grim," Flink said. "In a lot of cases, if she stayed and took the beating, at least the kids might have gotten food. Now that might not be the case if the primary income earner is unemployed."
Both agencies say serving a single client costs about $70 a day. Costs include food, utilities, toiletries, transportation, clothing, child-care items and even furniture to help women set up their new homes.
"So many people just don't have anything when they get to the shelter," said Flink, adding that clients can stay up to 45 days while working to get housing and a job. "We are struggling to meet the needs, and we are asking for the community's support."
More clients in summer
It isn't unusual for shelters to be fuller in the summer, Hafley said, but being over capacity day after day is not the norm.
"Summers are generally a time that victims make decisions to leave an abusive partner because children are out of school, neighbors are out of town and there are fewer questions to answer. The timing allows the victim to minimize her shame and embarrassment," said Hafley, adding that the heat may also play a role in the rise in domestic disturbance police calls.
Because of the increased demand, The Family Place added five beds this summer and can house up to 105 women and children. Before this summer, the shelter was typically housing 85 to 90 at peak demand.
"If there are more people than we can shelter, we are putting them in a hotel. That is not optimal," Flink said.
SafeHaven's Arlington location has had to add beds in its gymnasium. Some of its clients have also been placed in hotels, officials said.
"This is an issue that is life and death. We are trying to prevent people in our community from dying from family violence," said Flink, adding that clients sometimes come to the shelter straight from an emergency room. "We don't want people to not call because they are afraid we are full. We'll figure it out."
Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578
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