A domestic violence refuge suffers a big hit.
For four years before the beatings began, Price lived in a home with her then-boyfriend and four beautiful children. Then the violence erupted and snowballed in an all-too-typical scenario.
"Screaming led to shoving which led to the beatings," says Price, rubbing the part of her arm where the mended bone awkwardly juts out above her elbow. Before she knew it, the bullied mom was being terrorized in her own home.
She had four children to protect, but she lacked the resources to escape. Stuck between homelessness and a fist in the face, she felt trapped in an impossible situation. Without WAA, she wouldn't have been able to leave. Now she worries about the future of safe havens for women like her.
|photo by Michael Persico|
Currently, the city's lone shelter has room for only 100 women and children, and stays are limited to 90 days. Despite the demand for placements, Philadelphia lags far behind similar-sized cities in domestic violence services.
To make things worse, last year Pennsylvania's community-based domestic violence programs lost $800,000 in state aid and almost half a million dollars in federal support.
Meanwhile, in 2006, women across Philadelphia filed 71,350 cases of domestic abuse. In the same year, 13,039 Protection From Abuse Orders were issued.
The need is there.
And though the city budget is a mess, now is the worst possible time to abandon our most vulnerable and neglected citizens. Experts say domestic violence escalates in bad economies, because that's when household stress levels go up. Last year, the national domestic violence hotline (1-866-SAFE-014) reported a 21 percent spike in calls. Shelters across Pennsylvania have been packed for months.
Christine Stutman, deputy director of WAA, says the WAA shelter's been at or near capacity since last fall. She explains that larger families are disproportionately affected by the crunch.
"If someone wants to come in with their kids, we may not have the room. But if there's a single woman, we still have a bed at least," she says. "And that always sucks."
Like most Americans, the staff at WAA worries about losing their jobs if there are more cuts and the shelter is forced to close. Since the initial round, Price has taken on more duties. She talks of having to stop paperwork to grab sheets when a new family arrives or going into the locked fridge to grab a bottle of milk for a fussy baby in the middle of the night.
But if the worst happened and the shelter closed, she says, it's not hard to imagine the outcome.
"Statistics would go up drastically of men killing women," she says, "because they wouldn't have nowhere else to go."
In 2006, 64 women were murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in Pennsylvania.
Price prefers to refer to the shelter as a "safehouse." She believes the term "shelter" turns people off and conjures up images of cold gymnasiums lined with cots.
Though not exactly cozy, the WAA facility is not the typical vision of a shelter. The place is spartan, but spacious and clean, and most families are afforded the comfort of private rooms. Community meetings are held in a common area clustered with coffee tables. A faint whiff of bleach trails down the long hallways.
On a recent visit to the shelter, about half of the residents are kids. (Last year slightly more children than women used the shelter's services.) During this visit, the place is packed--all 85 beds and 15 cribs are being used--but only a few people roam the halls. Many of the women are at work, despite the fact that their world has recently been pulled inside out. The older kids are at school, navigating their way through the foreign hallways of new schools in new school districts.
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.