A domestic violence refuge suffers a big hit.
As Price walks around, women scuff by in slippers on their way to do community chores. Others cruise by in pajamas, smiling. All of them wave or holler a greeting at Price, who calls out their names, smiles and waves back.
Other women lunch on bologna sandwiches in the cafeteria while toddlers spend the afternoon in a nursery littered with donated toys and decorated with bright crayon scribble drawings. Six kids huddle at the knees of an elderly volunteer nicknamed Grandma as she holds a colorful book up high above her wheelchair so everyone can see.
"And do we ever go into stranger's houses?" she asks. The little tongues all cluck down, mouths funneling into tiny Os and faces swaying back and forth in sing-song: "Nooo!"
The kids beam and bounce around happily, seemingly unaware of the struggle in the rooms around them. Maybe with the help of WAA, they'll be just fine and lead normal, healthy lives. That's what people like Price are here for, to help moms like Sasha break the cycle of abuse for themselves and for the sake of those kids.
Sasha's a 27-year-old African-American mother of two who dreams of one day running her own hair salon. She folds her arms on the table and ducks into its cradle with a little drama when she seems embarrassed. She's going on about how she can't wait to get her life back on track after she gets out of the shelter. Again, she says.
Big emphasis on the word "again." When she says it, she is looking straight ahead and doesn't duck.
This is Sasha's second time in the shelter. Her first round was in 2007, but while living in transitional housing after leaving the shelter, her ex sweet-talked her into getting back together.
"I went back to him. That was my own damn fault ... It got worse--fighting in front of my kids, getting hit," she says. Then her boyfriend punched her 5-year-old son in the face. "That's it for me," she says. "I'm not going back."
It was Price's commitment to outreach that eventually led Sasha back to the safety of the shelter. Since the two women stayed in touch by phone after Sasha left, Sasha called Price in tears when things got bad again and she realized she made a huge mistake. It was Price who started the paperwork and coached Sasha back into the program. The relationship between victim and counselor is life-saving.
Women Against Abuse's integrated services are designed to work in phases. The first step is outreach, which covers tasks like getting business cards with the hotline number into hospital bathrooms and teaching police officers how to spot domestic violence. The idea is to get the hotline number out there.
Price remembers when she first got the number. After breaking her arm, Price's abuser helped her up the stairs and drew her a bath. She knew her arm was broken even though he kept insisting it was probably fine. She tried to lie down and relax, but he wanted to have sex. Out of fear, she let him. Afterward, he drove her to Presbyterian Hospital in West Philly and waited while she got bandaged up.
While sitting in the emergency room, a hospital maintenance man approached her and said, "I know that the guy sitting out there did this to you," and pressed a business card with the domestic violence hotline number into her palm. Price didn't call the hotline that night; even after the broken arm, busted eye and all-over bruises, she tried to make it work with her abuser. But she kept the card.
Once a woman calls the hotline, counselors don't necessarily encourage them to leave. It all depends on the situation. Sometimes they have to counsel women who can't or won't leave into how to minimize the physical damage from the next beating. But when a woman does decide to escape, the hotline counselor helps her devise a safety plan. They advise the woman to gather her passport, kids' birth certificates, credit cards and other practical paperwork they'll need to start over.
In Price's case, life went on as usual for the next year or so. Her ex stayed low-key, his temper only flaring once in a while, like when he didn't like what she was wearing or something she said.
Then one day he smashed a telephone against the side of her head, as she was getting ready for church.
"I always say that was the hit that knocked some sense into my head," she confesses. Finally, she dialed the hotline. After the conversation, Price followed the safety plan: She told her husband she was taking the kids with her to church, got in the car and drove off.
After staying at the shelter for 45 days, Price moved into the subsidized housing secured with the help of her WAA case manager. She worked her way up to manager of a dollar store and got her own place.
The future is more uncertain than ever for women like Sasha, whose 90-day stay is almost up. In just a few days, she must leave the shelter so someone else can get a chance. The maximum length of stay was lengthened from 45 to 90 days when it got more difficult to secure housing. Now that affordable housing is even scarcer, 90 days is often not enough even though the housing paperwork begins the day a family arrives at the shelter.
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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