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No Beds for Battered Women 

Domestic shelter is unusually full this holiday season

Christmas is normally the slow season for domestic shelters, as women try to hold families together until the kids unwrap the presents. It's after the New Year, when resolutions fade and new beginnings end, that shelters pick up.

But this year, Charlotte's only shelter devoted solely to battered women is full. Shelter services coordinator Jane Taylor sees no signs the 29-bed facility will open up anytime soon. "We're hanging from our teeth every day," Taylor says. "If we had more space, boy, we could really do so much more."

As it is, the women's shelter is routing victims to alternative spots, including area hotels rented for 30 nights this year for women and children. Many women go to the Salvation Army shelter or the Urban Ministry Center's Room in the Inn program, which lets homeless people sleep in participating churches. "For domestic-violence victims, that's not real safe," says Taylor.

Deronda Metz, director of social services for the Salvation Army, says more than a quarter of the women seeking shelter through her agency say they're fleeing domestic violence. Women whose abusers show up outside the Army -- an occasional problem -- need to be moved quickly to a spot at the Shelter for Battered Women, Metz says.

Even getting a bed at the Salvation Army isn't a sure thing for battered women now. The agency now has 235 people staying at its 180-bed Center of Hope Emergency Women and Families Shelter. Though its numbers are down from this year's high of 280 people, the shelter still has people sleeping "all over the floor, on mats and on couches," Metz says. "Typically, during the holiday season, our numbers go down; families will reunite with family members. This Thanksgiving, they didn't go down."

At the Uptown Shelter, which houses men, executive director Bill Newman reports having about as many clients this year as last. But the shelter's fiscal year, which ended June 30, brought an increase from the previous year, he says. Now about 200 men are sleeping in beds and another 55 guys are on the floor. "If the subsidies run out for the Katrina victims, I expect I'll see an influx of men coming here," Newman says.

Taylor hopes an upcoming audit of domestic violence services in Mecklenburg County spurs calls for more beds. Charlotte's 29 beds for domestic violence victims is far behind the number of beds in similar-sized cities, she says. Carol Morris, the consultant behind two similar projects, is expected to present the audit to county commissioners.

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