She tidied up the motel room, placing stuffed animals on one of the two double beds with care. Her two daughters, ages 3 and 16 months, sat at a small table, painting with watercolors in a coloring book. Their mother is tiny; she looks more like 15 than 25.
Susan (not her real name) had been at the Orange County motel for three days. She left her husband because he had assaulted her twice in the past week. It scared her, she said, because he usually doesn't hit her when she is pregnant. This time the beatings began after her pregnancy was confirmed.
She was also worried that her husband might hurt the children. Recently, when the 3-year-old threw a toy that hit him in the face, he lashed out at the 16-month-old. He "backhanded the baby, knocking the wind out of her," Susan said.
Susan's husband "just wanted full control of everything," including money, she said. Susan didn't have any money or any access to it; she had to ask her husband every time she needed some.
He often refused to give her money and would not buy groceries or antibiotics for the children "to punish me," she said. Just before she left, she and the children "ate Malto Meal for four days. And me being pregnant, it's so sick."
Susan and her children were staying in the motel while waiting to get into a shelter for battered women. Her room and her food were provided by Safety Net, a program that offers immediate emergency shelter in motel rooms to battered women for seven days--until they can get into a shelter or find another place to stay.
The First Night
The first night she left her husband, Susan and her children spent the night in a shelter for the homeless. Twenty-five people slept in a small room that had "no heating, no hot water, a broken sewage pipe and broken glass everywhere," she said. A man at the shelter harassed her all night, offering her money in exchange for sex, she said.
The next day, she called a battered women's shelter, but it was full. Then she found out about Safety Net.
When she got to the motel, "I just slept and slept. It was so peaceful and quiet and clean," Susan said. "I couldn't handle the streets. If there wasn't Safety Net, I guess I would have had to stay with my husband."
Safety Net, a 3-year-old Orange County program, provided temporary food and shelter for about 825 women and children in 1985, according to program manager Judi Naslund. About half of them stay in the motel until the husband is served with a restraining order to leave the house or until they can find a place to stay, Naslund said. The remaining families that use the program are waiting to get into one of three Orange County battered women's shelters.
Naslund or an assistant will visit the women for an hour each day at the motel--to bring food vouchers (which can be redeemed at a nearby grocery store) and to counsel them on the social and legal services available to them. Families of four or less receive food vouchers worth $15 a day and stay in one of four "moderately priced" motels, Naslund said.
"I don't use the really low-priced (motels)," Naslund said. "I need cleanliness." The limit on motel room costs is $42 a night, she said.
This year the budget for the motel rooms and food costs is $65,000. These funds are provided by the Orange County Community Services Agency, which also provides partial support for the three battered women's shelters in the county, according to administrative analyst Joan Conroy. The budget is up from $40,000 last year, when Safety Net ran low on money and had to turn away about 20 families while limiting services to "high priority" cases, Naslund said.
Safety Net is also supported by the Community Development Council, a nonprofit corporation that has budgeted $75,000 to cover this year's administrative costs and salaries for Naslund and an assistant, according to John Flores, CDC president.
Finding Safe Shelter
Naslund usually can place a woman in a motel within about an hour, she said. The staffs at the three battered women's shelters in Orange County also have authorization to place a battered woman in a motel at night and on weekends through Safety Net, she said.
Spokeswomen for the three battered women's shelters noted that the shelters provide more structure and services than Safety Net. Services at shelters include mandatory individual and group counseling to raise a woman's self-esteem, said Susan Leibel, executive director of the Women's Transitional Living Center in north Orange County. Other shelter services may include parenting counseling, assertiveness training, alcoholic support groups, legal aid, career development sessions and information on welfare and other social services, Leibel said.
The maximum stay at the three Orange County shelters is 45 days, and because the shelters are almost
always full, women often are referred to Safety Net, Leibel said.