New women's shelter planned in Phila.

Women Against Abuse also received state, city, and private money to renovate a facility for transitional housing.
Women Against Abuse also received state, city, and private money to renovate a facility for transitional housing. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 25, 2013

Work for Sarah Janicki has been busy.

And that is bad.

Janicki handles client services for Women Against Abuse, and in the last year, the Philadelphia nonprofit has had a disturbing rise in the number of requests - and denials - for emergency housing.

In 2012, the group had to turn down 8,400 requests for shelter from callers to its hotline. Though that included some people who made multiple calls over several days, it was up from 1,700 denials in 2007, she said.

As the need for services and housing rises, Women Against Abuse is going through "a huge period of growth," Janicki said.

In the winter, the nonprofit will open a second, 100-bed shelter, doubling the number of people it can house in emergencies. The city has awarded the agency a 10-year, $2.5 million annual contract to run the haven.

In addition, Women Against Abuse received $3 million in state and city funds, as well as private donations, to renovate and expand a facility for longer-term transitional housing. Called Sojourner House, it will accommodate 15 families for as long as 18 months.

The group also has arrangements with other nonprofit developers to house 45 families in their properties, and has secured public funding to offer short-term cash subsidies for at least 15 families a year.

"Domestic-violence victims are underserved in Philadelphia," said Councilman Bill Greenlee, who, with Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, held a recent hearing on the subject. "And they're a particularly vulnerable population. If you have nowhere else to go, you might stay in an abusive relationship, and that could be tragic."

It was for Sheila Armstrong, now a member of the board of directors of Women Against Abuse and a former client. In 2005, the 36-year-old mother woke up in the hospital with a broken arm and facial injuries after her boyfriend knocked her unconscious with a vacuum cleaner.

She spent 90 days in Women Against Abuse's shelter, and 18 months in transitional housing before moving into her own home.

Currently laid off from her job as a teaching assistant with the Philadelphia School District, Armstrong said she believed the tepid economy was making matters worse. "The economy plays a big part," she said.

When money is tight, survivors have fewer resources or options for leaving abusive situations.

Officials at the agency said it may be getting more requests for housing help because it is doing a better job of publicizing its hotline: 1-866-723-3014 (1-866-SAFE-014). It manages the 24-hour hotline with three other organizations: Women in Transition, Lutheran Settlement House, and Congreso de Latinos Unidos.

Founded in 1976 in a neighborhood women's center, Women Against Abuse provides nearly 14,000 people a year with housing, counseling, legal help, and educational training. Last year in Philadelphia, the agency said there were at least 2,000 emergency room visits related to partner violence; more than 140,000 calls to police for domestic violence; and 24 domestic violence homicides.

"Historically, domestic abuse was a private family issue," said Katie Young Wildes, a spokeswoman for Women Against Abuse. "But now it is seen more as a public health issue and nothing to be ashamed of."


Contact Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659, jlin@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @j_linq.

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