Nearly a month after Valerie Godoy was discovered beaten to death at a downtown Austin park, more than 2,700 people have signed a petition demanding more emergency shelter for homeless women.
Godoy, who was 34 and homeless, was found dead June 15 at Duncan Park, in the 900 block of West Ninth Street. Officials say she died of blunt force trauma. The Austin Police Department is investigating, but no arrests have been made.
Since her death, homeless advocates have begun calling for a new women’s shelter in Austin. Currently, those who want a place to stay are routinely turned away from local shelters because of a shortage of beds, said Richard Troxell, founder of the advocacy group House the Homeless.
“We’re constantly hearing from women who are being beaten or raped,” said Troxell, who has been coordinating a print and online petition at www.housethehomeless.org. “No woman should be subjected to this. We need to get them off the streets now. There should be immediate emergency shelter upon request.”
Once House the Homeless finishes its petition drive — Troxell said he doesn’t know when that will be — the organization plans to take it to the City Council. Local homeless organizations, however, are already meeting to develop some short-term solutions that would get women off the streets more quickly. They’re also looking at long-term possibilities.
Advocates say it’s difficult to accurately estimate the number of homeless people in Travis County on any given night. Some people live in shelters, but many others stay in hotels, cars or isolated areas in the woods.
But last year, 15,651 men and women received homeless and low-income housing services from local organizations in Austin and Travis County, according to the local Homeless Management Information System. Of those, 6,144 were women — up 11 percent from the year before. The number of those women who need immediate shelter is unknown. Right now, there are 331 emergency shelter beds citywide set aside for females: 256 for women and their children and 75 for single women. Those numbers include shelter provided by groups including SafePlace and the Salvation Army.
But homeless services providers say that those beds are always full and that they routinely turn people away.
“We can serve about 20 percent of the people who contact us,” said Sharon Lowe with Foundation for the Homeless, which coordinates the Interfaith Hospitality Network. The network is composed of local churches that can house eight or nine families at a time.
The Salvation Army operates 195 beds for women and children at two shelters: 125 for families and 70 for single women. At any given time, there are 25 to 40 families and 20 to 30 single women on the waiting lists for those beds, said Kathy Ridings, director of social services for the nonprofit.
“We see single women sleeping outside, on the sidewalks,” she said. “That’s a huge concern to everyone.”
Advocates say they don’t know whether Godoy had attempted to find shelter and had been turned away. But some women stop seeking services after they have been rejected several times, Troxell said. Other women refuse to stay at the Salvation Army because they are intimidated by the largely male population there.
Living on the streets is particularly dangerous for women, many of whom are already victims of violence, Troxell said. Many homeless women try to isolate themselves, which makes them more vulnerable, he said.
“It just makes them a target every which way you go,” he said.
The growing number of women seeking services persuaded the Trinity Center, a downtown nonprofit that helps homeless people, to devote a second day a week to serving only women. The group provides food, clothing, access to showers, individual case management and some financial assistance to about 60 women each of those days.
“We created a safe haven for them,” said Trinity Center Executive Director Irit Umani.
Teresa Blackford, who is homeless and was friends with Godoy, said she has stayed in shelters, lived in hotels and camped outside over the past three years. Austin “desperately” needs more shelter space for single women, she said.
“I just don’t feel safe anymore on the street,” she said. “Yes, I have God with me, but that’s not enough.”
Contact Andrea Ball at 912-2506
Austin shelter numbers
75: Number of emergency shelter beds set aside for single women
346: Number of emergency shelter beds set aside for men
256: Number of emergency shelter beds set aside for women and children
54: Number of emergency shelter beds that will accommodate either sex
Austin shelter statistics
160: Number of single women who have stayed in a shelter bed this year
1,482: Number of single men who have stayed in a shelter bed this year
4,416: Number of women who have received some kind of homeless/housing-related service since Jan. 1
7,008: Number of men who have received some kind of homeless/housing-related service since Jan. 1
Source: Homeless Management Information System
Photo information: Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Ana Crosby gives her son, Jacob, 1 1/2, a kiss while they spend time Tuesday at the Trinity Center. Crosby, who has twin boys, is currently staying at the Salvation Army. The organization has 195 beds for women and children at two shelters, but some women are intimidated by the Salvation Army’s largely male population.
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