The desperation recorded on Prince George's County arrest warrants and assault reports has spurred a movement to break the cycle of violence that encircles many families.
Organizers call it the shelter movement, a community effort to provide temporary quarters where victims can take refuge from family violence, get help and take another look at their futures.
Since its inception last fall, the Family Crisis Center of Prince George's County has sought to fill a gap left when the county's only previous domestic violence shelter--The House of Assisi--was closed two years ago due to a lack of funds. The turning point came early this month, when the Brentwood Town Council unanimously approved plans to set up the center in the former Brentwood Elementary School on Taylor Street.
Winning support from citizens and the council, and watching the rising tallies for financial contributions and volunteers, brings a special satisfaction to James W. Hubbard, head of the county Commission for Women and coordinator of the drive to establish a family shelter.
"When I got the call the next day" after the council meeting, Hubbard said, "the real ecstasy was hearing that one of the councilman said he not only supported it, but was proud to have the shelter there. With that kind of support, the shelter is going to make it."
The state legislature recently passed a bill that will raise the marriage license fee from $3 to $18, specifying that the additional fees be used to fund "battered spouse shelters and domestic violence programs." For Prince George's, that could mean $100,000 a year.
The county's shelter effort is one of a growing number of community projects around the country attempting to offer temporary housing to battered spouses and children.
But unlike most, which rely largely on a single private or government funding source, the Family Crisis Center will operate like a business, Hubbard said. The idea is to provide victims not only with a refuge, but with a network of services to help them change their home situations while they are away from the confusion of violent surroundings.
Volunteer health, counseling and management professionals will handle the daily operation, Hubbard said, providing battered spouses with channels for legal advice, health care and vocational referrals.
A 20-member board of directors will keep track of the projected $125,000 operation and set policies, according to the center's bylaws. Five of those positions would be set aside for representatives from the county District Court, social services department, Commission for Women, Mental Health Association and Women's Action Coalition.
The other 15 board positions would be filled by elections from the center's general membership. Hubbard has spent the last five months persuading community organizations to pay $150 and citizens to pay $75 for a one-year membership.
So far Hubbard, a security consultant and former assistant to the county sheriff, has attracted 70 members and $7,000 in membership fees and donations through nightly meetings with community groups around the county. His presentation includes a CBS "60 Minutes" film clip about a community-supported family crisis shelter set up near Houston.
The project has attracted the services of Bowie lawyer Eugene J. Yannon, accountant Gordon Linder and Susan Helfrick, director of the county Commission for Women. John Rhodes, executive vice president of the county Chamber of Commerce, has been working to "open some doors in the business community to help us raise money," Hubbard said.
Hubbard, the only man in the nation heading a women's commission, has been the chief coordinator for the shelter since plans began rolling last year. Although he is planning to run for the House of Delegates this fall, he said his major activity now is to get the center operating.
He first became aware of the degree of domestic violence in Prince George's--second only to Baltimore city, according to Maryland State Police reports--when he began working for the county sheriff's department in the early 1970s.
The problem continues to cause lost productivity in businesses, more work for the judicial system, and dicipline and learning problems in school children who suffer from abuse and often grow up to repeat the violence they've seen.
"It the shelter has to be tried sometime," Hubbard said. "When you have community support, a professional staff and money coming in, I don't see how it can fail. Because it's not going to fail for a lack of use."