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Family Justice Center: Murder highlights need for county safe house

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County will get its own safe and secure shelter for victims of domestic abuse this month.

It didn’t open in time for Yvonne Holmes of Andrews, an employee at Litchfield Beach and Golf Club.

With her 10-year-old son in the house, Holmes was shot to death last week. Her boyfriend has been accused of her murder and is in jail awaiting a hearing.

Beverly Kennedy, co-executive director for the Family Justice Center of Georgetown County, said Georgetown ranks ninth among the state’s 46 counties in calls for domestic violence. South Carolina ranks No, 2 nationally in the number of women killed by men. “This facility is absolutely necessary,” she said. “It goes beyond critical.”

Five employees have been hired to staff the shelter, scheduled to open in two weeks. Their training began on Tuesday.

The Family Justice Center is leasing the house from Georgetown Housing Authority after a renovation that included an all-new kitchen, flooring and furnishings. Kennedy credited the housing authority director, Chris Woodruff, with maintaining the house as a shelter and renovating it. In addition to a bedroom and office for an overnight staff member, the house has three client bedrooms with space for 11. All that remains, according to Kennedy, is the installation of a security system and transfer of the telephone hot line.

“We’re ready to go,” she said.

Women will be provided counseling, court advocacy, clothing, food and medical care at no cost. They can stay as long as 60 days before they move to transitional housing. Men in abusive relationships are not allowed but are offered help in another facility.

“Victims and children at the highest risk of injury and death will have a secure facility,” Kennedy said. “They won’t have to leave Georgetown County or change schools. We can be proud of the fact that we can take care of our neighbors and friends in Georgetown County.”

She said the Family Justice Center served 400 clients last year, placing victims fleeing violence as far away as Florence County. “We are confident, with increased public awareness and increased public support, the staff, board and partners will achieve our vision of creating a community where there is zero tolerance of family violence,” Kennedy said.

The center’s leaders were elated last fall when the Department of Social Services accepted a proposal for a shelter in Georgetown County and approved a $25,000 grant.

Georgetown and Horry counties comprise one district, and Kennedy said she was surprised when DSS officials awarded a contract for a shelter serving just Georgetown County. There are only 13 districts in the state, some with as many as seven counties, so Georgetown County’s selection was seen as a long shot.

The Family Justice Center previously worked with Citizens Against Spouse Abuse to shelter women who had fled abusive relationships before it ceased operations last year. Now the Family Justice Center will provide all the services and protection an abused spouse needs in one place, from emergency room care to legal representation in an attempt to break the cycle of beatings, reconciliation and returning to an environment that has not changed.

Kennedy called it a “seamless continuum of services,” avoiding impediments caused by a lack of public transportation in the county to carry victims to lawyers and various agencies. Kennedy said a safe house is the best means of assisting victims of violence because they don’t have to leave their community.

Operating a shelter presents a different set of challenges for the center, beginning with funding. Estimated annual costs exceed $150,000.

A group organized by Georgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb called G-MEN, Georgetown Men Endorsing Non-violence, raised nearly $30,000 for the shelter at a fish fry last month at Greenfield Plantation. His goal is to get 500 people to donate $100 a year to the Family Justice Center.

Cribb said in a news release the fish fry was part of an ongoing effort to enlist men “to take a proactive stance in putting a stop to domestic violence in Georgetown County, to serve as positive role models for our youth, families and residents and to provide safety for those in crisis and immediate danger.”

Kennedy said the involvement of men in the effort against domestic violence makes a positive statement.

“It’s a very important step in efforts to help victims,” she said, “because men have a voice.”

The Family Justice Center is located at 1530 Highmarket St. in Georgetown. The center may be reached at 843-546-3926. Its website is fjcgeorgetown.org. The center’s 24-hour crisis hot line number is 843-436-3733.

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