The SAAFE House in Huntsville, Texas is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides crisis intervention, advocacy, and support services empowering abuse survivors to seek new beginnings and rebuild lives free from the effects of violence. They provide services to all victims of family and sexual violence. They also provide a program called Violence Intervention Program, developed to help abusive individuals, believing that there will continue to be victims unless the issues of an abuser are addressed. We sat down with Jolene Miller, Executive Director since 1988, to find out more about services offered and how the community can get involved in ending abuse in Walker County.
“We started in July 1984, and we started with a group of community members who knew there was a need for services in Walker County. It was originally called Walker County Family Violence Council, but changed to SAAFE House (Sexual Assault & Abuse Free Environment) in 1988 when we added services for sexual assault. There was a mining company from Duluth that had a house here for their workers to live in when they came to town to save on hotel costs. They let us use their house as a shelter in lieu of repair costs to the house – which, we had no money for repairs – but we had a house! That was a good thing. We were able to extend our services to the shelter. In 1989, we did our first capital campaign to raise half the value of the house, which is what the mining company sold it to us for. It wasn’t used that much at the time, but right now the house is never empty. Because of that, the house is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
SAAFE House has since extended their service area from the office and shelter in Huntsville to include an office in Trinity open four days a week, an office in Livingston open five days a week, and a second shelter house in Polk County. They offer services in New Waverly one day a week and in San Jacinto County as needed. As with any emergency situation, things don’t always happen between 9 and 5. The 24 hour a day hotline is available to provide crisis intervention and safety planning, give referrals to needed resources, or to simply answer questions in a confidential and non-judgmental setting.
“You really have to help the individuals meet their basic needs. A lot of people in the community think ‘Well, just get out. Just move away.’ It just seems right or left, a do or don’t kind of thing, and that is such a gross misrepresentation of what our clients go through. They are not with people just because they are roommates; that’s not the way it is. And it’s a very complex issue to try to get out. ‘Okay, so I get out, where am I going to work?’ What are the options for our clients? What does housing look like? Average rent is $800-1,000 in this community. How do you get that working a part-time or even full-time job at minimum wage? It’s very easy to see a child that’s been abused, and that child had no choice in that and they have no responsibility in that, so let’s go in and do everything we can. We are right on target—we need to be there for that child. But it is very hard for society to see adults as children that have often been abused. It’s not like they just woke up and they were 25 years old, and they were abused and they got out. To be honest, most of the people like that tend to get out, and they are on their way in a different direction. But it’s the clients that have been through years and years of trauma as a child, both molested and physically abused… Where do you go with that, unless you get help? Who helps you figure out that life can be different than that? It’s not what you want, but it’s what you know, and it’s very hard to break that cycle. I laughingly ask our volunteers and staff, ‘How many of you want to exercise more? How many would like to lose weight? How many want to be more disciplined in college and make better grades?’ Hands go up right and left. ‘Why aren’t you doing it?’ And it’s like, BAM, there it is. So why do we put that expectation on someone that has, for the most part, had so many personal victimizations? I mean it’s personal. It’s not like someone robbed your house; it’s your body.”
“We are not an 8-5 like most programs; SAAFE House is going 24 hours a day, every weekend, every holiday. This past weekend, I was on call and was getting calls at 1:30 am. We had to take someone someplace, and that’s what we do, so we are always open to new volunteers. We need volunteers who would help with transportation, who would help work at the shelter. Having volunteers frees up time for our advocates to do other things for the clients. As far as needs, we need groceries. At the shelter, we serve three meals and two snacks a day for the people living there, 26 or 27 people right now. We pack lunches for the kids and all of that. And paper goods! We are always in need of paper goods—toilet paper, paper towels, those kinds of items are very critical and costly to our program. Donations are great, and the people in the community have been very generous and supportive over the years, but beyond the items, there is a need for financial support as well. We have a roof that needs repair, but we have to have reserves to be able to do those types of things. We are really needing to build a new shelter. Our house was originally built in 1952. We are so thankful to have gotten the house, but we have added all we can, and there is no way to make it airtight anymore. There is a lot of wear and tear from use and things that need to be replaced. We also need funds to do education, to go out into the community and do programs to spread awareness.”
SAAFE House also runs Elite Repeat, a resale shop that funds the organization and is stocked by donated items. “Elite Repeat is actually a client service as well as a way to make money. Sometimes, the woman has left an abusive situation in just some shorts and a T-shirt, but now has to go to work and the children have to go to school. Elite Repeat is a way to empower the victims by giving them vouchers and letting them go with their advocate to shop and get the things they need to be able to begin their new lives away from their abuser. Back when we were in the old building, all the donations were kept in the back room, and it was just clothes and canned goods piled everywhere. We would go to the back and find whatever we could, but sometimes the client had different taste than the person picking. With Elite Repeat, they have some options and can pick what they like to wear, and it has been really good. It is open to the public and sourced with donations, really good ones. When someone donates to SAAFE House, we give them the option. If they want their donation to be used by SAAFE House, we honor that and we don’t put it for sale. But if they don’t mind, we are able to generate some funds that way. Other fundraisers would be like the Crawfest in May and Purse Bingo in February, where women play 10 rounds of bingo to win a designer purse like Coach or Vera Bradley or whichever. We get the purses donated, and those have been doing pretty well. We will have a booth at Fair on the Square as well.”
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To find out more about how you can get involved, donate, or volunteer you can call (936) 291-3529 or visit the website at www.saafehouse.org. If you ever find yourself in need of services, you can call the 24 hour hotlines for Family Violence and Sexual Assault at (936) 291-3369 and (936) 327-2513.
24-hour hotlines for Family Violence and Sexual Assault: (936) 291-3369 and (936) 327-2513