To the Editor:
Domestic Violence Center owns and operates two emergency shelters that serve women and children in our community who find themselves homeless as a result of violence and abuse. AS DVC’s Executive Director, I found myself reading the recent Grapevine editorial regarding the Women’s Community Shelter with a great deal of interest. Mostly, I found myself marveling at how the Grapevine could be so right and so wrong at the same time.
You are so right that homeless women need and deserve emergency facilities that are safe, that respect their dignity, that have resources on-site to provide immediate help, that provide both opportunities for privacy and community, that offer a healing environment and much, much more.
But you are so wrong about who is to blame for our inability to reach this goal. Those of us who offer emergency shelter services have been presented with a nearly impossible set of circumstances. The social “reforms” and policies of the past two decades have served to effectively dismantle the safety net for poor families. Combined with the economic downturn that our community has experienced, this lack of a safety net has created an unprecedented demand for emergency shelter services by women and children with myriad and complex need. Assessing and meeting these needs is an extraordinary challenge for the staff of our under-funded, over-burdened emergency shelters. The staff who work in our shelters are dedicated men and women who work long and hard hours with little reward and less pay. Just this past week, four of DVC’s staff came to me in tears of frustration over their inability to meet the rising tide of needs presented by shelter families.
And let’s talk about our shelter facilities. None of the local shelters is operating in a facility designed for its current use. We recognize that, consider ourselves lucky that we have the facilities that we do, and often find ourselves competing against one another for precious, scarce capital dollars for renovation and repair. And that’s because identifying any urban or suburban community who will welcome an emergency shelter as its new neighbor is utterly impossible.
You’ve got that part all wrong, Grapevine. It’s not the shelters that are the problem. It’s not Mental Health Services, not the Office of Homeless Services, not the Homeless Services Advisory Board, not the shelter staffs; the problem is that the riches country in the world has selfishly turned its back on poor women and children.
Cathleen Alexander, Executive Director
Domestic Violence Center
Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine in Cleveland, Ohio-Issue 73 in October/November 2005