A domestic violence refuge suffers a big hit.
When transitional reduced-rent housing isn't available, the next step is to call the Office of Supportive Housing, which helps funnel the women into homeless shelters throughout Center City.
That's a problem, says Stutman, because homeless shelters have different objectives and serve a different community than a place dedicated to victims of domestic violence. For example, many shelters require that their residents leave during daylight hours as a way to encourage them to apply for jobs. But since most women fleeing domestic violence have children, it's not practical. There's also a security issue--abusers can more easily locate their victims if they're roaming the streets of the city.
Even when there's nowhere else to go, most women opt to avoid the homeless shelters.
"If they're familiar with the shelter system, they probably don't go," says Stutman.
It's at this point in escape and recovery that staff and experts wistfully admit that many victims, given the choice between dangerous shelters and homelessness, are forced to return to their abusers. Experts estimate that in some regions of the country, one-third of homeless women wound up that way as a result of fleeing domestic violence.
When Price needed help getting it together after escaping with her children, her WAA advocate helped her secure Section 8 housing. Now, she says, that's not even close to a realistic option--the wait list is so backlogged, the Philadelphia Housing Authority is just beginning to review applications from 2001.
The system is so overwhelmed that WAA has been turning away hotline callers because the shelter is maxed out. The smaller county shelters in the surrounding suburbs, where WAA tries to direct callers rather than turn them away, are increasingly full also.
Just when domestic violence is forcing more women and children to flee their homes, it's harder than ever to get help.
Domestic violence results in $3 to $5 billion lost annually in absenteeism, decreased productivity and health and safety costs. City funds may be tight, but if the financial spigot for our only domestic violence shelter is turned off, leaks will inevitably spring elsewhere in the system.
"If you have no case management, and you can't do housing applications and work on life issues, we're just a bed," says Stutman, exasperated. "It causes more problems. Then we're going to have still more homeless people with no resources, so they'll keep revolving through everyone's doors."
It's hard to think of Price as lucky for all she's endured, but compared to women and children who are currently locked in the cycle of domestic violence, she is fortunate.
Sure, she's worried about losing her job because of the budget cuts, but she no longer wakes every day in fear of losing her life. The abuse is behind her. She's married to great guy, she says--they're celebrating their eight-year wedding anniversary this year.
Looking back from a safe distance, she laughs about when they first got together.
"I had to lay the law down. I said, 'Look. I've been through this and this. I'll put up with this, but not this,'" she smiles and shrugs. "He stayed, and I was like, all right!"
Now Price's dream is to open and run a house that will serve as transitional housing for victims of domestic violence, so women like Sasha and all the other families under Price's care can have somewhere to go after leaving the emergency shelter. She drafted a business plan and even has the building picked out already. Now she's saving the $750 it costs to register as a nonprofit.
Asked what would have come of her if she didn't have WAA to help her out when she needed it most, Price's face simmers with indignation. She folds her arms across her chest and says, "I would have gone back."
Note: PW has received many requests from concerned readers who want to help Stephanie fund her project. Stephanie can be reached directly at email@example.com.
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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