An organization with hopes of becoming the first children’s emergency shelter in the Rio Grande Valley is near completion. The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation awarded Valley Haven a grant to help renovate the future shelter. And while construction is almost complete, the organization is faced with a bigger issue.
Some of them were placed in local foster homes, but many had to travel hours away to a safe haven.
“I was 17 years old, junior at Harlingen High, and one of my classmates actually took a letter that I had written to her indicating that there was abuse taking place at home. When CPS became involved is when I soon realized that a place like Valley Haven didn’t exist,” said Rosalinda Mercado-Garza of E-Colors in Education.
It’s because of stories of abuse like Rosalinda Mercado-Garza’s, that the founders of Valley Haven decided it was time for change.
“So about a year and a half ago we decided to become CASA volunteers, and during our training they informed us that there were no emergency children shelters in the Rio Grande Valley,” explained Kristen Millon, founder of Valley Haven.
“Once we open, we’ll have a 32-bed facility, and we will take children 0 to 17 years of age,” she continued.
Construction of Valley Haven is just a few months away from being complete. However, there’s one problem that’s keeping the organization from opening its doors to children.
“Well right now we currently don’t have a sewage system. We were annexed into the city many years ago and sewage does not extend to our area,” said Gracie Bradwell, co-founder of Valley Haven.
Bradwell says she met with city officials to find out what can be done. But according to the city, it’s not the type of business that will generate revenue.
“The Economic Development Council is to encourage businesses to come to Harlingen. And well they told me, ‘you’re already coming to Harlingen. We don’t have to convince you to come to Harlingen.’ So what incentives do they have to give me? They don’t,” said Bradwell.
The cost to install a sewage system for the shelter is at least $215,000. But after factoring in other expenses, it’s not something Valley Haven can afford to pay for alone.
“We could just install septic tanks, but that would just be applying a band aid to the bigger problem that we’d face later. The maintenance, the upkeep of septic tanks as opposed to a sewage system offered through the city of Harlingen.”
News Center 23 reached out to the city for comment on the matter, but have yet to receive a response to our calls and messages. We also spoke to the Department of Family Protective Services to learn how an emergency shelter for children in the Valley is beneficial.
“It’s desperately needed because children in our area have to be taken out of the Rio Grande Valley. They’ll be taken to Laredo or Corpus, or even San Antonio or Austin when foster homes are not readily available. But the Department of Family Protective Services always strives to keep children as safe and close to home as possible,” explained Diane Perez of the Department of Family Protective Services.
Diane also mentioned there’s always a high demand for foster and adoptive parents.
The next foster/adoptive informational meetings will be on June 6th in Edinburg for Hidalgo County Residents and in Harlingen for Cameron County residents.