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Domestic abuse: Family Justice Center makes plans for safe house

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Since Citizens Against Spouse Abuse ceased operations last month amid an investigation into mismanagement of funds, victims of domestic violence have been left without a clear path for finding shelter.

They once would have gone to one of the safe houses CASA had in Georgetown and Horry counties. Now other nonprofits are struggling to find placement for people who call looking for help or show up on an agency’s doorstep.

“We’re getting several calls per day and people show up at our office saying [another nonprofit] said you could put us up,” said Bevelyn Mitchell of the Rape Crisis Center, which was a sister agency of CASA. “On Friday we had two calls within an hour of each other.”

Organizations don’t want any victim to fall through the cracks because help isn’t available, but they don’t have the resources to help them, so they’re sending them to agencies in other regions of the state.

The situation has led Georgetown’s Family Justice Center to look into the possibility of opening and running a safe house in Georgetown County, further taking up the slack left by CASA’s collapse. The center’s leaders met with community partners on Wednesday to get input on the idea. It received overwhelming approval and is poised to apply for funding through the state Department of Social Services that would allow it to open and run a shelter.

Vicki Bourus, who co-directs the center along with Beverly Kennedy, said she has talked with officials with the Georgetown Housing Authority, which owns the building that housed CASA’s safe house outside Georgetown and they are committed to having that property continue to operate as a shelter. It would be made available to whoever gets the funding from DSS.

In addition to the center, at least one other organization, My Sister’s House of Charleston, has expressed interest in applying for the funds and restoring a safe house to Georgetown County.

While that agency has the experience to successfully take on the job, “in our opinion, to have the managing organization 75 miles away from the actual shelter is a disadvantage,” Bourus said. She and Kennedy have experience running shelters.

The county would have to be absorbed into Charleston’s regional funding area for My Sister’s House to get the funds. Georgetown County is in a region with Horry County. The center will ask DSS to consider splitting the region, so Georgetown won’t compete for funding with its larger neighbor. The center is already the main agency finding placement for victims who need shelter, having placed everyone who was residing in the CASA safe houses when they closed. “I think you have to do it. You don’t have any choice,” Georgetown City Police Chief Paul Gardner said of opening a shelter.

“It’s crucial,” added Annette Perreault, executive director of Habitat for Humanity.

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