A domestic violence refuge suffers a big hit.
Stephanie Price vividly recalls the time her ex-boyfriend beat her so savagely with a dining room chair that the wood splintered into smithereens against her body. Then he grabbed the vacuum cleaner and hit her with such force that a bone in her arm cracked and the blood vessels around one of her eyeballs burst black. That was 11 years ago.
Price tells her story from inside the Women Against Abuse (WAA) shelter, Philadelphia's only domestic violence shelter. She ran here when she didn't think she'd survive another beating at home and she had nowhere else to go. No one wants to wind up at a domestic violence shelter, now she buzzes through the security gate here five times a week.
For the past four years she's been working full-time at the shelter. The road from terrified victim of domestic violence to working as a professional on the front lines has been winding and paved with pain. Talking with Price, you'd never guess what she had to put up with; she waves her good-natured tough-girl attitude around like a wand.
Maybe it's a defense mechanism, but the positive vibe helps at work, where the 40-year-old spends her days helping women and their children cope with the emotional, practical and financial hurdles that come with escaping domestic violence. It's not easy work, and though it took seven years to get around to it, Price says she always had it in the back of her mind to work here and give back to the community that saved her life.
But now Price's job may be on the line. Last November, $296,268 reserved for WAA--15 percent of its operating costs--was quietly carved out of the city budget, a cut that went mostly unnoticed in the midst of public outcry over libraries closing and a shortened Mummer's parade.
Even if she keeps her job, for Price, the cuts are personal: She knows firsthand how hard it is to get back on your feet after surviving domestic violence, and now she sees it's only getting harder for the thousands of battered women and their children trapped by poverty.
Today, victims of domestic violence are less likely to secure a spot at the shelter and less likely to find housing when they transition out. Now, due to budget cuts, they are also dangerously--maybe fatally--close to losing the kind of personal advocacy that helped Price escape violence for good more than a decade ago.
Early last month, six positions at the shelter were eliminated. According to Heather Keafer, WAAs' interim executive director, the budget cut also initially included a provision that would eliminate case management positions. Case managers are advocates who help clients navigate the bureaucracy and fill out applications for services like housing, day care and school.
Battered women rely on the day-to-day support that case workers offer during the first few months of struggling to start a new life. They're a safe harbor of emotional and practical support for women and children accustomed to living in fear.
"It was helpful to know that other people were going through the same thing I was," says Price. "I thought I was alone."
Given that eradicating case management would reduce the shelter to the "three hots and a cot" method of service--three hot meals a day and a temporary place to crash--Keafer negotiated the terms of the budget cut so that WAA was able to make its own reductions elsewhere within the organization.
Not that there was much fat to trim to begin with. The staff cringes at the news from City Hall that Nutter is going to have to slash even deeper into the city budget.
"I know the mayor is looking to make more cuts," says Tammy Oliver, director of the shelter. "I hope he's not looking at our program anymore. We're starting to turn away larger families."
And family support is crucial. "The counselors assisted a lot with my children," says Price, by way of example. "My boys were traumatized. They had witnessed the abuse, so they had a lot of anger."
Insiders say Philadelphia shelter conditions have gotten so bad that animals need to be saved from the very place they go for protection. UPDATE: Councilman Jack Kelly's speech citing PW's cover story.
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