By Lena Craven
Ellen Cohen remembers the public perception surrounding the Houston Area Women’s Center (HAWC) when she joined its board in the early 1980s. “I always say that people thought we were a group of wack-eyed, crazy, radical feminists, you know, who smoked funny cigarettes and did some weird things — and we did some strange things,” she mused. Four decades later, the center’s headquarters stands at the corner of Waugh Drive and West Dallas Street as an established institution. When HAWC was founded in 1977 as a small resource center to provide relief for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, no one could have envisioned the immense growth that followed. In its first decade of operation, the center grew from a small office in the University of Texas School of Public Health to a fully functioning organization.
Although HAWC’s shelters and capacity have evolved, the confidentiality of its location has remained constant. The center opened its first shelter in 1978 with space for fourteen people, becoming the first of its kind in Houston. Two years later, HAWC opened a new shelter that housed thirty survivors up to three weeks for free if they helped maintain the facility. This allowed them time to begin the recovery process and evaluate their next steps. Sometimes they chose to return to their partners, sometimes they did not – either way HAWC was there for them. In 1983, the shelter expanded to house forty-five individuals, and two years later opened a shelter in Montgomery County.
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