Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and domestic violence prevention advocates announced on Wednesday a $4.7 million Domestic Violence Assistance Fund to help domestic violence victims. The funds will help the county’s increasing rate of domestic violence incidents which have resulted in 33% of the county’s homicides this year. 

The program will provide funding assistance to approximately 3,800 households and 6,650 individuals. The Flexible Financial Assistance helps survivors cover basic needs as well as assistance with housing, transportation, childcare, utilities, and other expenses as they seek stability. 

“Providers and survivors report that flexible financial assistance is life saving,” Ellis said. “Flexible financial assistance gives survivors a chance to leave and stay away from an abusive situation.” 

According to a press release, reports of domestic violence increased locally, nationally, and globally during the COVID19 pandemic. In Texas, 204 people were killed by intimate partners in 2021 and 46, or 22%, were in Harris County.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis said, many factors can contribute to domestic violence incidents like new gun laws that were passed. 

“Gun violence and easy access to guns only make the problem worse,” he said. “We don’t control gun laws, but we can do more to support victims and survivors of domestic violence.” 

Ellis said domestic violence affects marginalized women more. 

“Family violence affects everyone, but women of color are likely to be harmed,” he said. “While 1 in 3 anglo women report having experienced domestic violence during the pandemic, the rates of abuse were 50% and higher for those marginalized by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, citizenship status, and cognitive physical ability.” 

Ellis said Harris County domestic violence shelters are unable to accommodate the high demand of victims and survivors. 

“Harris County has the highest turn away rate for domestic violence shelters due to high demand and lack of space,” he said.

In 2020, Harris County helped approximately 4,600 people by utilizing flexible financial assistance with funds provided by the CARES Act.

The Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC) will oversee program funds provided by Harris County. HCDVCC will be responsible for application intake, review and approval. 

Amy Smith is the Senior Director of Communications and Operations for Harris County’s Domestic Violence Coordinating Council. She said without funds and everyone working together, domestic violence incidents will continue to rise. 

“Domestic violence is not a political issue, it does not care what party you’re affiliated with, but it does require everyone to step up and help,” she said. 

Smith said the issue is affecting more than Harris County women – but women all over the world. 

“We need our community to step up and help us with a national pandemic of domestic violence,” she said. “This is not just a Harris County problem, it is an international issue that women are dying.” 

The funding for the program is a one-time federal grant through ARPA funding. Commissioner Elis said funding for the program could be affected if commissioners can’t vote on future budgets. For weeks, Harris County Officials were not able to adopt new tax rates, which resulted in the county having to adopt a budget similar to last year’s.

“The budget standoff will make it more difficult for us to do this down the road, I’m hoping that it is so successful as a pilot basis that I’ll help make the case for us to look for more government funding.”