A lack of shelters for abused women

Posted: March 20, 2012

RENEE NORRIS-JONES remembers all too vividly the seven long years she spent with her husband, Carl, who blackened her eyes, broke her nose and burned her with grease.

Women Against Abuse operates the only emergency shelter in the city for abused women and their children, and it was instrumental in helping Norris-Jones escape her abuser 30 years ago.

Last fiscal year, WAA served 615 victims, but had to turn away 7,705 requests for safe shelter, up from 2,552 in fiscal year 2009 - a sign of the need for more emergency shelters, advocates say.

"The number doesn't reflect how many are turned away and have lost their lives," Meghan Kincade, director of shelter services for WAA, told City Council's Committee on Public Safety yesterday. "It is a life-and-death priority for our communities to assist these families."

Councilman Kenyatta Johnson sponsored the resolution calling for yesterday's hearing on the availability of emergency shelters for victims of domestic violence.

"How in a city that's this big, do we only have one shelter servicing individuals suffering from domestic violence?" Johnson asked, adding that he'll push for additional funding to expand services for abuse victims. "I think it's an area that needs to be highlighted."

Philly has a lower ratio of domestic-violence-shelter beds to residents - roughly six beds per 100,000 residents - than do Baltimore, Washington and Pittsburgh, said Jeannine Lisitski, WAA executive director, adding that neighboring county shelters end up supporting Philly's victims.

Philadelphia police respond to more than 115,000 domestic-violence calls a year.

The city's lack of options leaves victims with "no choice but to return to abusive homes, where they are again beaten and abused, often to death," said Nicole Lindemyer of the Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence.

Last year, there were 27 domestic-violence homicides in Philly and 166 statewide, Lindemyer said.

The city's Office of Supportive Housing has made an effort to accommodate the increased demand for shelter for victims of abuse by using 37 percent of the 1,390 beds not designated for abuse victims this fiscal year and 45 percent of the 230 single female beds, said Dainette Mintz, director of the office.

The office - which helps fund WAA and other programs that would be hit hard by Gov. Corbett's proposed state budget - faces $645,775 in cuts, she said.

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