The following article is part of a series of real stories of how United Way of Southeast Mississippi nonprofit partners have helped local people in need. Some names and details have been changed or omitted to protect the safety and privacy of the subjects.
Written by Carly Blake
Year after year, hundreds of women and children suffer from domestic abuse.
“I knew then, I was like this is the last straw. I prayed to God that he would take me out of this situation,” said abuse survivor Nicole Brown.
That’s when the Domestic Abuse Family Shelter (DAFS) in Hattiesburg stepped in to help.
“Most of our women that come, even women with children - or men - whoever we service, when they’re leaving a domestic violence situation, most of the time they come with nothing except the clothes on their back,” Shelter Director Cyndy Hancock said. “There is not one thing that we cannot get that the clients need. We buy the clients whatever they need. “
In just the year 2020 alone, the shelter helped 128 families or individuals get back on their feet and restart their lives.
“Most of these clients are rehoused and put somewhere they can start their life over,” Hancock said.
The latest of those survivors was Brown.
“Me and my kids’ father were together for 12 years,” Brown said. “He became violent over the course of three years. We came back to Hattiesburg back in 2020. He wouldn’t let me do anything. He wouldn’t let me go anywhere unless I was with him. We were staying with some of his family members and his friends until we got to a point where we didn’t have anywhere to go. We became homeless. He wouldn’t let me go stay with my family. He would let our kids go for like a day or two, and then we would just walk the streets until he got enough money for us to get a hotel room. And that’s what we did. We stayed in the hotel room for weeks at a time. Every day we would walk. We didn’t have a vehicle, so we had to walk everywhere we went, and he just became very violent. Everything set him off. Everything.”
Brown said she spent years suffering in silence, and it wasn’t until her life was almost gone that she decided she’d endured enough.
“The last time we were at a hotel room was the week before thanksgiving . We got a hotel room and we were there for a week,” Brown said. “And he, I guess, just had one of his rants and became very violent and he assaulted me to the point where I blacked out. I almost lost my life. I didn’t know I was walking until I was on the other side of William Carey University. I walked from Broadway in the pouring rain. When I got to my sister’s, I asked her to take me to the hospital. I stayed at my sister’s house for two days and we called a couple places and it was just pure luck that we got in the shelter that we did and they accepted me when they did. “
Brown and her four children spent 7 months at the shelter.
“It was wonderful. They were very understanding,” said Brown. “They were very nice. They helped me in everything, because I only came with the clothes I had on my back. My kids had a couple outfits to wear, but we left with what we could carry. I had nothing. They provided me with everything. They talked me through it and I made it.”
Thanks to DAFS, Brown now has a home of her own and a stable job.
“I left [the shelter] in June 2021 and we moved out to the country and it is awesome,” Brown said. “My kids love it. I love it. I love the fact that I can go home, and I don’t have to look at anyone but my children and my animals. We love it. The shelter, they have still been helping me with anything I need. Anyway I can help them, I help them. We collaborate together.”
Hancock said the nonprofit heavily relies on community support and funds brought in from United Way of Southeast Mississippi.
Through donations and community awareness, United Way helps DAFS provide housing, transportation, financial support, counseling, medical help and more to domestic abuse survivors.
“It gives women hope, especially when you’re depressed and someone comes in and they’re jolly, they’re happy and they’re like ‘Hey can I help you in any way?’ You know?” Brown said. “It makes a difference, because you never know what someone is going through.”
DAFS helps families in Forrest, Lamar, Marion, Jones, Covington, Wayne, Greene, Perry, Jasper, Smith and Jefferson Davis counties. To learn more about its impact in the Pine Belt, you can visit its website dafs.ms or its Facebook page @DAFSofMS.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the shelter’s crisis line at 1-800-649-1092.
Domestic Abuse Family Shelter is a Support Services Partner of United Way of Southeast Mississippi, a local nonprofit that strives to create positive change in Forrest, Lamar, Marion and Perry counties. By providing funds to partnering agencies, United Way addresses community issues in the areas of education, economic mobility, health and support services. For more information about United Way and how it helps organizations like DAFS, visit unitedwaysems.org.