July 06, 2006
Through her work as a human services specialist, Pat Bourke says, she has seen many women in the Augusta area who are at risk of becoming homeless.
"I've had women at my desk, with their children sitting at my feet with a little baggie of animal crackers, and they did not know where they were going to sleep the next night," she said. "I'd call shelters for them, but often hear, 'We're at capacity, we can't take any more tonight.' I just felt helpless to do anything." So Ms. Bourke is working to establish Julie's House, a crisis center and transitional housing facility that will help local women and children, including many who are leaving domestic-violence situations, get back on their feet.
Although the center has yet to be built, Ms. Bourke has started serving women in emergency situations by putting them up in hotels or transporting them to shelters in Aiken. "I'm having to start small, but I feel led to do this," she said.
According to the Augusta Task Force for the Homeless, 65 beds are available for women in local shelters, and all fill up fairly quickly. Even when there is space available, Ms. Bourke said, the 30, 60 or 90 days that women are allowed to stay doesn't allow them to get situated and start a new life.
She said she envisions Julie's House as a place with several efficiency apartments where women and their children can stay for up to 24 months while they receive help securing a job, getting an education and finding a new home.
"These women not only have to heal emotionally and physically, but they often have a lot of legal things to take care of," Ms. Bourke said. "They're going to be the head of the household, and you can't be head of the household on minimum wage."
Julie's House is named after the first woman Ms. Bourke helped. The woman, who was going through a divorce, had never been in the work force. With Ms. Bourke's assistance, she was able to find a job.
Since Julie's House began in 2004, Ms. Bourke said, she and her volunteers have helped more than 20 women.
The center is currently operating with limited funds, which have been donated by local businesses and those who attended a fundraising dinner. But Ms. Bourke is also seeking grants and hopes to find a building to house the center. She is confident that Julie's House will then be able to assist many more.
"We know how important this is to the community, and we need to get the message out," said Tom Sorrells, a member of the center's board of directors. "Julie's House could be a really good thing, and I feel like it should be a community effort."
From the Friday, July 07, 2006 edition of the Augusta Chronicle Be sure to watch for segments about Julie's House on WJBF-TV during the month of July and read about our organization in the July and August issues of Skirt Magazine. Thank you, Cindy Giet, for nominating me for the Giving your Best Award. We are pleased that our organization is receiving media coverage.