YWCA shelters women in crisis
By Ann Harris
"Women, and often their
children, who are homeless in
Houston because of crisis in
their lives have far too few
places and people to turn to for
help right now. No one doubts
the need for such housing and
supportive services, although
comprehensive, exact statistics
are difficult to determine,"
stated Peggy Kirkendall, chairwoman of the recently formed
Committee on Crisis Housing
for Women and board member
of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) here.
"We get about 100 calls a
month at the Y alone," reports
Elizabeth Otey Terry, associate
executive director for the local
chapters, "and we're only one
of several groups receiving
these pleas for help. Currently
there are only about eight small
facilities, often specializing in a
particular type of need, such as
drugs, alcohol or ex-offenders.
Beds are few in these places
and the length of time a woman
is allowed to stay is often too
short for her needs or too long
(ranging from six months to six
years) to free space rapidly
enough for others needing it."
The referrals and counseling
services the present facilities
offer are usually at a parapro-
fessional level and not available
around the clock, according to
Terry and Kirkendall.
They propose a center to offer
temporary refuge, as well as in-
depth support programs, tailored to each woman's needs.
Follow-up for every person is
planned, also. The center
would be open to any woman,
even if she brings children.
Any suggestion that the crisis
center might duplicate the
existing facilities exasperates
"Women's needs are so great
in their troubles that there can't
be duplication of services. We
don't even have 200 beds in
Houston, and if a family is involved there are only a handful."
The Committee on Crisis
Housing for Women grew out of
the YWCA program development committee chaired by
Hanni Orton YWCA officials
called on other concerned
Among the diversified group
are representatives from 15
other women's organizations,
such as Women in Action, the
Houston Rape Crisis Coalition
and the Southwest Chapter of
the National Organization for
Women; also, the Harris
County Sheriff's Department,
Child Welfare, TRIMS and
Texas Research Institute, as
well as individuals from religion, real estate, and law.
Nikki Van Hightower, women's advocate for the mayor's
office, is also active in the issue.
Task forces of the committee
are wrestling with the problems
of locating a building or land,
funding, programs and policy,
arousing community awareness
and documenting specific cases
of women in Houston who have
needed such low-cost, temporary housing and help.
"We're at a very exciting
time-the brain-picking stage.
We're learning a lot, fast. The
response so far has been excellent," Kirkendall commented. The task forces are
drawing on expert help.
"For example, we're in touch
with centers across the country,
trying not only to find out what
they're doing, but also to anticipate possible problems and
thereby avoid them ourselves."
They are also investigating
ways to avoid the same woman
having to return repeatedly.
"The real trick will be to get
all the datelines synchronized
for the various complex components' of the project so the
funds, building, personnel, services will all mesh at the
required time," noted Terry.
Eligibility guidelines, the
number of persons, who can be
served and stringent licensing
requirements are yet to be considered.
Because a woman's crisis
often comes from or is com-
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ELIZABETH OTEY TERRY
pounded by her economic dependence, Kirkendall envisions
an expansion of the present
YWCA programs of career development, job training, personal growth, and financial
planning (insurance, taxes,
credit, real estate, wills and
"We're looking not just at the
situation in 1976, however.
We're trying to project what
will be demanded in 1996 so
that the housing we provide for
crisis will be flexible enough to
adapt to women's changing
needs in the future," Terry
The concern for crisis housing
for women is a natural outgrowth of the Houston YWCA's
philosophy and program, begun
"We are the oldest women's
movement in the world," Terry
claimed. "And we're completely separate and different
from the YMCA (Young Men's
Christian Association). The
YWCA does allow men to take
classes as associate members,
but they are not thereby given
voting rights in determining
how the group is run."
"Perhaps in some women's
views the YWCA has become
stereotyped in recent years as
tame and apart from controversy, but it has many giant
steps to its credit which were
considered very radical at the
time," Kirkendall and Terry
One of the first "controversial" steps the Y took was to
provide living quarters for
single women displaced by the
social conditions caused by the
Crimean War. The YWCA
later became an accepted lifestyle for "respectable" women.
The need then was for shelter
and protection in a structured
setting, with a parlor to entertain "gentlemen friends"-and
a curfew, Terry said.
Today's woman needs shelter
and protection, too, but in new
ways and for new reasons.
Although a YWCA is automatically looked to as a source
of low-cost rooms, Houston has
no such facility. Two years ago,
financial pressures forced the
organization to give up the Ben
Milam Hotel as its quarters.
As another example of the
Y's innovative and radical reputation, Terry shares a favorite
Because women were excluded from universities, and
even some high schools, the
YWCA offered typing classes to
help women become financially
independent. Not only was this
considered immoral, because
her ankle might be exposed as
she operated the typewriter foot
pedal, but the classes were
judged to be too strenuous for
women to endure.
The local chapters give
classes in crafts, physical activities and leisure-recreation,
interests. Also included are
transactional analysis, signing
for the deaf, and skills courses
such as typing and shorthand.
"Women's Liberation and Literature," a seminar on the conflicting role of mother-wife
woman, and a presentation by
the feminist theater group,
"Stand Up Sisters," on October
27, are also scheduled for the
Suggestions or information
concerning crisis housing, especially in documenting actual
cases, should be directed to
Elizabeth Otey Terry (523-6881)
at the Downtown YWCA, 3515
Membership fees in the
YWCA are low and privileges
are reciprocal at facilities
around the world. The organization states it is a "movement
that recognizes each woman as
a person with her own inalienable rights," which the YWCA
has been fighting for during the
past 118 years. In 1976 the first
priority is "to thrust our collective power toward the elimination of racism wherever it
exists and by any means
Terry pointed out that as
racism is conquered, women become freer to unite against