HAWC's new shelter will also offer counseling and behavioral health services, a financial empowerment and career counseling center, and other services delivered on-site by strategic partners.

Author: Shafaq Patel, Reporter, Houston Business Journal

The Houston Area Women’s Center is expanding to a new headquarters and shelter campus to keep up with increased demand for temporary housing for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking.

The center saw a spike in demand for shelter in the wake of Hurricane Harvey – and even more so during the pandemic with the stay-at-home orders. The current facility has 120 beds, but the new facility will be able to triple the center’s capacity.

Emilee Whitehurst, president and CEO of the HAWC, said the center created a plan back in 2019 after it did an assessment that showed about half of the people who called the 24-hour hotline to request safe harbor could not access it because the entire region’s shelters were at capacity. And since March 2020, the situation has worsened.

Whitehurst said the hope of the new facility is that it will drastically reduce the turn-away rate and provide safety to at least 95% of the people who the center acknowledges are in danger.

The new facility will break ground in June.

The 15,000-square-foot, 360-bed-shelter will be on HAWC’s 2-acre plot on 3077 El Camino St.. Previously, the center did not disclose the location of the shelter, but as this will be a large, four-story building, Whitehurst said the new facility will instead be highly secured.

Since about 40% of the shelter residents are children, according to Whitehurst, the new facility will also have an elementary school approved by Houston Independent School District and a child care center. The facility will also offer counseling and behavioral health services, a financial empowerment and career counseling center, and other services delivered on-site by strategic partners. The campus will feature access to a walking and biking trail, meditation gardens, and other amenities focused on healing.

Construction of the new shelter is expected to finish in December 2023. The current shelter will then be renovated to be the new headquarters by December 2024.

The center is raising $45 million for the organizational transformation, $30 million of which is for the construction and development of the new building. The city of Houston seed-funded $15.85 million. HAWC will also be selling its current Montrose-area office at 1010 Waugh Drive, which is valued at $12 million.

GSMA is the architect of the facility, and Camden Builders will be the contractor. Both are based in Houston. The new facility will be developed in partnership with Houston-based New Hope Housing to provide a more stable living arrangement for residents than a shelter so it can feel more like a housing space, according to a statement.

The current shelter is designed for people to stay for 30 days, Whitehurst said, but survivors usually stay for 45 days – and oftentimes, people need to stay for much longer.

“We are excited to be building a facility that will tend to the needs of people who need much longer than 45 days, and they will be able to stay in a facility that doesn’t feel so temporary so that they can rebuild their lives in the wake of  trauma and prepare for the challenges that they will face as they rebuild their lives,” Whitehurst said. “That means a job, transportation, health care and child care, and all the things that people need to put in place so that they’re not vulnerable to abuse again.”

Along with expanding the temporary housing, the HAWC has also increased ints employees from 130 to 177. The center is also working to increase its resources and work with community organization to prevent violence and make legal services, counseling, financial services and behavioral health more accessible.

“We want to deepen our community presence. We want to expand prevention efforts so that we can interrupt the cycle of violence, prevent it before it happens, and interrupt it if it’s already occurring,” Whitehurst said. “And we really want to have a holistic approach to our work so that no matter who comes to us, they are able to access a range of services that really attends to their needs for healing in the wake of harm.”

Founded in 1977, the HAWC has a budget of $14 million this year and is Harris County’s largest and most comprehensive service provider and advocate for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking. In 2020, HAWC provided emergency housing in its shelter and in area hotels to over 1,200 women and children, more than ever before.

If you are someone you know is in need of help due to a domestic or sexual violence situation, you can call the Houston Area Women’s Center 24/7 hotlines listed below.

24/7 Hotlines: 
Domestic Violence Hotline: (713) 528-2121
Sexual Assault Hotline: (713) 528-7273

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Click here to learn more about HAWC’s services.