360 West Features Kathryn Jacob

Babs Rodriguez | 360 West

Kathryn Jacob aims to keep women and children who seek shelter from domestic violence safe — and healthy

Over an arc of 10 days in March, phone calls to the Tarrant County domestic violence hotline surged to more than 80 per day before dwindling to half that many. Slowly, they have returned to the usual 65 or so per day. Kathryn Jacob, president/CEO of SafeHaven of Tarrant County, says that early shift is not surprising.

“When the coronavirus looked like it was going to force people into quarantine situations, many women reached out. From the agency’s 40 years of experience with survivors of domestic abuse, we know that victims of intimate partner violence prove to be ingenious at escaping, seeking help under the radar,” she says. “Some took action as quickly as they could. Now we have to imagine many are unable to make a call for help because they are locked down with their abuser.”

When call numbers fell off, Jacob says that the severity of the violence reported increased. “Julie Evans, CEO at Alliance for Children, has said something similar. There is an overlap between child abuse and domestic violence that has intensified. Offenders need to have power and use it for control over others. Alcohol, unemployment, substance abuse and pandemics can be triggers, but they are not a cause.”

During a 36-hour pause in March due to the coronavirus, safety protocols were established for SafeHaven residents and staff — of the 165 employees, 105 work at the shelters. Otherwise, the nonprofit’s programs, including long-term housing assistance, legal help, therapy and children’s programs, have remained up and running. Women who arrive alone usually bunk with as many as three others; now, they are assigned individual rooms. Mothers and children stay together. For additional protection, the agency worked with the city of Fort Worth to secure travel trailers. “We use them as quarantine environments for families with a positive coronavirus case or if we need to quarantine someone at high risk, say from a homeless shelter, before moving them into a communal shelter.”

There are temperature checks twice a day, but everyone is free to come and go. “Many women who seek shelter are employed as nurses’ aides, caretakers and in grocery stores. They have to work. We also have to be sensitive to the fact that a lot of these survivors had been held captive, sometimes for years. We do not want to retraumatize them, but we do ask those who can stay in to do so.”

Jacob, who has worked for 20 years in the nonprofit sector, grew up in Chicago, joined the Peace Corps after college and met her husband, a volunteer from Dallas, in Turkmenistan. She has helmed SafeHaven since 2015. Currently, she is working from her Mansfield home. “I have gone in to the shelters a few times. I want staff to know how valued they are. I would never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself.” Her husband works for Methodist Health System, but now is at home along with the couple’s three young children. “He understands my need to go, and he knows I am careful.”

As with other nonprofits, SafeHaven is now more than ever in need of donations, some of which have recently included masks. Innovation is the name of the game. The year’s Purple Party fundraiser, canceled due to the pandemic, was reimagined into an online event. Jacob believes public support will continue to rally.

“In a time when we are quick to praise — and rightfully so — the work of health care workers, the delivery services and grocery store workers, I don’t want domestic violence survivors or our staff to be forgotten. Due to the confidential nature of our work, what we do is almost in the shadows. Especially now, we don’t want the message of our services to get lost or the staff to be unsung. We are still here; we are still providing lifesaving services. It’s important to shine light on that.”