Richmond’s shelter project, it’s a home away from a home
on November 16, 2019
Deneshia Clemons, 49, a San Francisco-born Richmond resident, says she thought she would die before turning 30, having feared for her life during a turbulent relationship years ago. But Clemons escaped that abusive situation, and now helps victims of domestic violence.
A mother of three, Clemons founded a 24-hour emergency hotline one year ago to make sure survivors of domestic violence in Richmond get immediate help. Her project, “House of Loving Hands,” provides resources and connects victims to a temporary refuge, which is usually a shelter, or a hotel if the shelter is full.
“We are like a bridge from the abuser to safety”, says Clemons.
In 2001, Contra Costa County became the first county in California to declare “zero tolerance for domestic violence.” However, its cities still rank high for domestic violence. Richmond has the highest numbers in the county. For the 2019 year through October 22, the Family Justice Center served 540 victims served in Richmond, compared to Antioch (189), Concord (401), Pittsburg (121), Walnut Creek (57).
Clemons pays for the hotel out of her own pocket. She makes sure women are provided with daily necessities before being moved into a shelter when a bed is available. Victims usually stay there between 24 hours and a week. To raise money for her project, Deneshia has been working as a substitute teacher at St. David pre school in Richmond. Clemons fills gaps in the available safety nets, which can include anything from providing rides for women without cars, to shelling out hotel money when shelters are full.
“Sometimes they [the victims] have their own vehicles. Sometimes my drivers go and pick them up. We try to connect them with the advocate in Richmond who can navigate them through the process, then the advocate gives the victims the numbers of shelters where they can find a place to stay,” says Clemons. She is not legally allowed to call on behalf of the women because she cannot represent them, she explains.
Then the advocates start looking to see if there is a bed available for them. If not, that’s when the House of Loving Hands steps in, providing victims with a place. As Clemons explains, usually advocates do not have funds to pay for hotels, and that’s what her project does. It pays for women’s stay in a hotel when there are not enough places in shelters.
Most of the time advocates have resources to place women in shelters but cannot pay for the hotel for them. If this happens, the lawyer reaches out to Clemons and she goes and picks them up. Although the women are in her care for a short time, Clemons makes sure they are cared for and get everything they need.
“If they’re in my care, they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. If they leave without clothes we go to the store and buy different things they may need,” Clemons says.
The Family Justice Center in Richmond is a one-stop center that helps victims of domestic violence providing services for the cities of Contra Costa County. Out of 3,249 clients this year, 2,351 cases were related to domestic violence. The journey to safety can be long and hard.
Women who reach out to the Family Justice Center usually have to go through a long process of leaving an abusive relationship, which may take months to years. According to Family Justice Center, it takes an average of seven attempts for an abused partner to leave such a relationship for good.
The Center connects victims to one of its partners, organizations that are advocates for the victims of domestic violence. However, their location remains strictly confidential for safety reasons. The victims are not allowed to share the address of these organizations with anyone. If they do, they have to leave the shelter.
Since 2015, Detective A. J. Fonseca has been working at the Domestic and Sexual Violence Unit at the Richmond Police Department which shares the same building with Family Justice Center. The unit investigates 15 to 20 felonious cases per month.
“Usually abusers remain in jail for 72 hours. Most of the reported cases will be classified as “NCFed”, which means ‘no case filed,’ ” Fonseca says. What happens next is that, often, victims tend to withdraw their complaints. Many cases also lack corroborative evidence of the abuse. “There is a very high standard of provability, which is very difficult to overcome”, Fonseca added.
If a victim does not document the abuse, it makes it difficult if not impossible to prove. The process starts when the victims reports the abuse for the first time. That initial report provides the police with evidence, since the incidents of abuse start getting documented.
“After so many, we’ll take action even if the victim does not want us to,” says Fonseca. “If we have enough evidence, we may not even need the victim to cooperate.”
The detectives pass the reports of the cases to the District Attorney’s office, which in turn, determines whether there’s enough evidence to file charges. But many victims aren’t ready to be a part of the process.
“They are not very cooperative with the prosecution team and the police departments when it comes to filing charges,” says Deputy District Attorney Kristen Busby.
Their reluctance occurs because women are wrapped up in a cycle of violence, she says. “It’s something that [does] not just happen overnight. It is gradual,” Clemons explains. In her words, a once-loving partner does not turn into an abuser in a short period of time. Often it is a long process, in which a victim feels confused and still expects their partner to return to their old loving ways before the abuse began.
In June 2019, Clemons’s “House of Loving Hands” received a $6,000 grant from the City of Richmond through the Environment and Community Investment Agreement (ECIA). On December 14, Deneshia is planning to arrange a holiday dinner dinner she calls “It’s All About You.’’ She plans to serve the survivors a five-course meal and give their kids donated toys.
“A lot of times, we as women and we as mothers tend to self-care less,” Clemons says. “We always make sure our kids are taken care of. We always make sure our husbands are taken care of. However, if a woman is in an abusive relationship, she is always in a fight-or-flight mentality, so self-care is not a priority.”
Clemons, who lives with her daughter, plans to continue helping women and raising money for the project. Eventually, she aims to open a transitional home where victims would be able to stay for up to 18 months and to learn to live independently.
In the safe house she plans, she will teach women budgeting and resumé writing so that they can get back on their feet. It’s crucial for those women to secure jobs when they go through a recovery period, Clemons says, adding, “It is not her fault she had to stop working to be safe.”
Abuse is still a very much taboo subject that the majority of people do not want to talk about.
Like many survivors, Clemons says she wants to destigmatize discussion about domestic violence and help people to speak about it as openly as she does.
“People would hit me up, inbox me or text me and tell me they were praying for me but they would not express their support publicly. They wouldn’t post anything on social media,” she says. She is convinced that the stigma comes from the lack of knowledge.
“Domestic violence is incredibly serious,” says Deputy D.A. Busby. “That’s how women die in this country. It’s in the hands of their romantic partners.”
This article has been updated to correct details of Clemons’ family status.
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