BY MOLLY NANCE
Planning an escape, waiting for the sun to go down and anticipating her spouse’s deep sleep, then gathering her children and shutting the door behind her is a synopsis of what hundreds of women in San Diego County do every year when they are fleeing from domestic violence.
But once they leave, where do they go?
For the women and children who make this unfortunate reality an opportunity to move forward, a safe haven awaits them when they choose to seek it. The place is called Becky’s House, a transitional housing program sponsored by the YWCA. There are two houses in San Diego, Becky’s House 1, which was completed in 2003, and the new Becky’s House 2, scheduled for unveiling this month, a timely opening during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The concept for the shelter originated in 1999, when the community heard a woman’s voice over the airwaves on the Jeff & Jer Showgram on Star 94.1 describe how she was seeking safety from her abusive boyfriend.
With overwhelming response, $43,000 in donations accumulated from the community to help her. But then more action took place , the actual building of this shelter of refuge.
General contractors in San Diego teamed up to support this anonymous woman and many others in her situation. Executives from San Diego-based Golba Architecture Inc., Del Mar Pacific General Contractors Inc. and Rick Engineering Co. were the driving force in building the two houses.
Tim Golba, president of Golba Architecture, said he was convinced in 2001 that such a project would be successful.
“If this idea could actually take off, and based on the current donations (at the time) it looked like it could, I wanted to very much get involved and donate services,” said Golba, who donated all of his services for Becky’s House 1, and services at cost for the second house. In addition to the private donations, the YWCA obtained federal, state and city grants.
Golba’s firm provided feasibility studies for up to six construction sites, renderings of the structure, and blueprints needed to obtain building permits.
“A typical project for us might take eight months, maybe 12 or 14 months,” Golba said. “We were looking at almost four years, just with Becky’s House 2.”
Many obstacles were at hand in getting the second house on firm ground, said Deborah Ragione, chief financial officer for Rick Engineering. The planning, design and engineering company that provided all the civil engineering services for the project encountered complex issues such as relocating an antiquated sewer line system built in 1961.
On top of that, many existing utility lines were not identified on any maps, and a big tree had to be preserved, meaning some utility lines had to be moved farther down the street. Due to heavy traffic, the work was to be done at night, a time fitting for a project such as Becky’s House.
“Rick Engineering is sincere about giving back to the community,” Ragione said, noting that all of their services were done at cost, adding up to $85,000. “All upper-level management is strongly encouraged to give their time and resources to causes they feel passionate about.”
As a board member of the YWCA for six years, Ragione is a huge supporter of what the organization offers.
“This project is truly a key vision of the YWCA,” she said.
As much satisfaction as there is for the housing units to be available for these women and children, Golba said there are mixed emotions about the shelters.
“When the first Becky’s House was opened it was a happy day, but the saddest thing was that they already had 100 people on the waiting list,” he said.
Casey Gwinn, the newly appointed chief executive officer of the YWCA of San Diego County, attributes the rise in housing needed to the decline of women returning to an abusive relationship.
“Once a domestic violence victim gets out of that situation she doesn’t go back if she has access to housing and all the services she needs,” he said, adding that the YWCA provides support services for women and their children, including job skills training, career counseling and financial literacy training. Women seeking assistance also have the opportunity to obtain a high school equivalency diploma and get job placement.
Seven out of every 10 women who enter Becky’s House successfully complete the program requirements, meet their personal goals and obtain employment and housing, according to the YWCA.
“It is so moving and touching to hear the success stories,” Ragione said.
Molly Nance is a freelance writer based in San Diego.