Give us Shelters


(Reprinted from MS Magazine,  Summer 2014.  Author Lindsey O’Brien)

A unanimous Supreme Court decision in late March reaffirmed a federal law making it a crime for domestic-violence offenders to possess a gun.  James Castleman had claimed that his state conviction for assaulting his child’s mother had not required proof that he had used violence.  But as Justice Sonia Sotamayor pointed out in her opinion on United States v. Castleman, domestic violence includes “seemingly minor acts” such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, pulling hair and “a squeeze of the arm that causes a bruise.”

This was a major victory in fighting violence against women, and will undoubtedly saves lives.  But at the same time, there is a disturbing trend that has gone little notices:  the reduction in the number and staffing of domestic-violence shelters.

Last year, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDBV), cuts to domestic-violence funding caused the loss of 1,696 jobs in the field — including legal advocates and those providing direct services in shelters.  This resulted in 9,641 victims turned away daily when requesting emergency shelter, transportation, legal representation or financial assistance.

The first reason for these cutbacks is simple:  State and federal budget cuts have reduced funding for human services.  The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), the only federal law dedicated to funding domestic-violence shelters, authorizes $175 million in spending a year, but last year Congress appropriated less than $122 million.

The second problem is a cap on the Victims of Crime Act.  VOCA is funded by criminal fines and penalties that provide services to crime victims.  In the beginning of 2013, however, Congress voted to allow only $730 million to be distributed annually, no matter how much had come in.  As of September 2013, $9 billion has accumulated and has yet to be seen by victims of crime.

Of those victims who are turned away from services due to budget cuts, 60 percent return to their abusers.  “That’s pretty stark.  And that, of course, means that their kids are going back too,” explains Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the NNEDV.  Thirty-eight percent of those turned away report becoming homeless or living in their cars.

For the past five years, Louisiana has averaged one domestic-violence shelter closure per year.  Yet the state faces one of the highest domestic-violence homicide rates in the nation.  Women in Louisiana are murdered at a rate exceeding 40 percent higher than the national average.  “I think that’s directly correlated to this lack of a safety net[for victims],” explains Beth Meeks, executive director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

As another example, the state of Rhode Island has been lucky enough to escape closures, but can no longer offer around-the-clock staffing at every shelter.  That means that those facing domestic violence can’t seek emergency shelter during the night.

Gandy suggests two ways to start turning around the situation:  Congress needs to appropriate all the money authorized in FVPSA, and lift the cap on VOCA.  “Even the most conservative members of Congress,” she says, “ought to see the appeal in sending money to the states to serve their own victims of crime.”

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When I helped to start a Domestic Violence Shelter in the seventies, we were one of the first shelters in America. I can’t express my anxiety and worry that shelters are closing and staff is being cut. Why? It is not because there are less battered women. In truth, today in 2014, a woman is battered every 11 seconds according to the FBI. My original shelter is functioning and use a large amount of volunteer staff. It provides many services for women. The last time I went back and visited, they had a half million dollar budget.

 

Today, we need women to help fund raise and to start new shelters. Shelters don’t need to be fancy, just warm, good food, and safety. It is a place where women can volunteer.  There is so much needed to be done. Children need to be counseled and played with. Moms need to receive counseling, legal assistance, transitional housing, they need to talk and express their feelings. They need to learn how to fill out a job application or practice interviewing. I They need other women to lean on and to draw strength from.

 

It is a crime to beat a woman.

It is a crime to beat a woman.

 

No one should have to live in violence

No one should have to live in violence

10 thoughts on “Give us Shelters

  1. The worst part is that so many of those 60% end up being abused even more violently than before once they go back 😦 My desire is to open a wellness center for abused and battered women to help them ‘start over’ again in ways that it was not offered to me.

    • I am sorry about all you have survived. It takes a lot of women and some financial backers. I hope you have a good core group. You need to take care of women’s and children’s immediate needs such as, medical, legal, healthy food, appropriate clothing, warm snug meals and safety. Hugs and contact me if I can be of any assistance. Hugs and energy, Barbara

  2. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

    Women die at the hands of their abusers every day, lack of money should not be the reason.

    • lack of money and batters can be found everywhere, even congress.

    • I agree – it is wrong to allow this and the “greed is good” elite rulers of the world ought part with some of their dollars to make the world better rather than themselves richer.

      • Eric, that is truth. I know what it is like to be on duty and hear a furtive knock on the door, you check and let in little children half asleep, yawning, and/or crying. Knowing they need you so much. You get them in and process them. Listening the entire time as the mom describe what happens. Feed the little ones if they are hungry. Then take them to empty beds as sleep can come now that they are safe. I could go on and on. We have to get our shelters back and we need more. Hugs, Barbara

      • Thanks! Hugs Barbara

      • They don’t take care of women and children. They walk away or beat them up. Rich people take care of what is important to them…really important. Hugs, Barbara

  3. ohnwentsya says:

    Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    Thank you for posting this! I don’t believe most people realize the depth of this problem. We need shelters but we also need society to stop giving tacit approval to the subjugation, abuse and murder of women and children.
    In Florida you can legally shoot children and get away with it. Trayvon Martin and the other young man in Jacksonville are proof of this absurdity. But if a woman fires av warning shot, harming no one, in self defense against her long term abuser, she gets a long jail term. Down hierarchy violence is acceptable in America. It is only when the oppressed return fire that punishment ensues.

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