Genesis Women’s Shelter Brings Support and Care to South Dallas
In the early 1980s, Cassandra Wesley called a domestic violence shelter for help, but she didn’t know what to ask.
“I couldn’t say, ‘I’m eight months pregnant, and he just threw me across the room,'” she says. Instead, she just said she needed an apartment.
Well, that’s not what we do, they answered. “So I hung up the phone,” Wesley said, “and stayed five more years.”
Then, in 1987, after another violent incident, her boss told her to call the Genesis Women’s Shelter, which had just opened in Oak Lawn. “I’m crying, I’m hysterical,” Wesley recalled. “And, you know, I was met, okay, just take a minute and breathe and tell me what’s going on.”
Genesis began as a domestic violence shelter for women and children in the Dallas area in 1985. Since then, it has opened an awareness center on Lemmon Avenue and a thrift store on Knight Street. This month, the shelter is set to open a second nonresidential outreach center and thrift store at 5020 S. Lancaster Rd., with Wesley at the helm as program manager.
The center is “much needed,” says Wesley. “And it’s been needed since, I would say, forever.”
The new Genesis Center will be located in the 75216 zip code, which has some of the highest rates of domestic violence in the city.
There were 184 reported assaults in 75,216 in the first three months of 2022, according to a Dallas Police Department domestic violence report released March 9. The next two highest ZIP codes, 75243 and 75217, had 182 and 157 reported assaults, respectively. The other 61 postal codes included in the report have an average average of 33.
Several non-profit organizations are already working in the area, such as Women Called Moses and All Women Marching for Hope. They will each provide referrals and resources, Wesley says. But aside from the Dallas County Department of Social Services on Ledbetter, the community has no nearby social services. Meanwhile, many women don’t have the time or money to take DART across town to the Lemmon site for a half-hour meeting.
Genesis has wanted to open a center in this area for five years, says Amy Norton, senior director of fund development at Genesis. In 2020, the association decided it couldn’t wait any longer. The local community has embraced the new facility. After the February 25 ribbon cutting, Wesley says she arrived in Lancaster on March 1 and found seven cars waiting, filled with people asking when the center would open. It was supposed to open last fall, but stalled due to pandemic-related delays in obtaining permits, labor and materials.
About a quarter of all women in the United States experience some form of domestic violence. In Texas, one in three women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Since the start of the fiscal year in October, the Dallas Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit has reported more than 2,500 assaults across the city.
But abuse is more than just physical abuse. Of the more than 2,500 domestic violence assaults reported by the DPD this year, 252 are classified as bullying, which includes verbal threats, harassment and harassment.
“We’re often blown away here at Genesis by how creative abusers can become,” says Norton. It’s about power and control, whether it’s physical attacks or verbal and emotional abuse, such as manipulation, belittlement or isolation. Abusers will use their victim’s faith against them or force them into submission. Over time, “it really erodes your spirit and your soul.”
Wesley says it generates a different kind of fear in women, because “he’s so controlling and makes you feel like, for so many years, you can’t do anything without him.”
They see financial abuse in almost every case. It’s “often more powerful than a lock and key,” says Norton. A victim may want to get out, but her abuser took all her money or destroyed her credit, so she can’t get an apartment.
A large part of Genesis care now involves supporting women through these types of abuse with services such as counselling, therapy for children and legal support. The shelter is not “all, end all the services we can provide to someone who has experienced domestic violence,” says Norton, explaining that the majority of Genesis’ services are at the non-residential center in Lemmon. After all, not everyone who experiences domestic violence needs a place to stay — they can stay with a friend or still be with their abuser, she explains.
If a woman leaves home before taking her medication, Genesis will help her get her prescriptions. They will ensure that the children do not fall behind in school. If she needs clothes, she can shop for free at the Genesis thrift store. They will help him plan his escape. The mission, says Norton, is to “surround her with everything we think she might need to help her take her first steps toward recovery.”
The new Genesis Center in Lancaster will provide the same services and support as the Lemmon site. There will be counselling, as well as childcare for mothers who attend the services. There will be safety planning, Wesley says, such as how a victim can hide important documents or clothing before leaving their attacker. Wesley plans to offer life skills seminars on resume writing and interviewing, as well as computer classes.
Wesley’s goal is to help women become empowered. She says after a woman leaves the shelter, it’s not a Cinderella moment. There is life after abuse. Women need to be proficient in paying bills and getting food and clothing at home. They need to know they are not alone and have ongoing support and community around them.
Wesley says when she called Genesis in 1987, they listened to her story and told her to come right away. She picked up her three children – then aged 10, 7 and 5 – from school and fled South Dallas “with the clothes on their backs”. They stayed at the shelter for almost four months. She and her children spent Thanksgiving and Christmas there, receiving advice and support.
In January, they moved after Wesley got an apartment. They moved back to South Dallas, but her ex found her new address and attacked her.
She says that because of Genesis, she knew what her rights were and had a supportive community, so “the fear of him was gone.” She filed a complaint.
“At that time, I had the strength, the courage, and I knew I had people who were going to work with me to fight against him,” Wesley says. “And that’s what I did.”
Wesley knows there are women like her in South Dallas. That’s why Genesis couldn’t wait any longer.
Catherine Wendlandt is an associate online editor for Magazine D‘s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…