Commentary by Brian Davis
Just five years ago there were two organizations serving the needs of homeless women fleeing an abuser: the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Tem plum House. Neither was overly healthy, but how many independent non-profits were during the beginning of this six-nightmare recession in Cuyahoga County? They merged and Cuyahoga County went from four domestic violence shelters to just one. We have narrowed the definition of domestic violence to those who are immediately fleeing an abuser. Yet studies show between 70-80% of women in emergency shelters have some abuse in their past.
This is not to condemn the one agency left serving Domestic Violence victims. The Domestic Violence Center is doing amazing work with an overworked staff shrinking resources. The DVC staff try to serve a broad population on a shoestring budget. They put in long hours and do everything in their power to keep the women of Cuyahoga County safe. They have tried to redesign their program to serve as many as possible, but there are plenty of women who have nowhere to turn for help.
The Homeless Grapevine and Coalition for the Homeless staff have become painfully aware of the impact of domestic violence over the last few months. In February, a guest of the Interfaith Hospitality Network was allegedly murdered by her “boyfriend.” According to a Plain Dealer story, she was brutally stabbed in front of her young children by a man she had dated for the past year. Then in May, the Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless was allegedly shot in the face while trying to end a long relationship with a roommate/boyfriend. We have also had a hard time finding a safe place for staff who were fleeing abusers over the past five years.
We made a mistake by letting the two organizations merge into one. Supporters will argue that we have two other shelters (West Side Catholic and East Side Catholic) who have stepped up to serve this population. They both try to fill this void, but it is not the same. The DV shelters have all of their staff trained to provide support. They all understand the pressure that the women face to return to their abuser. They all understand the difficulty in standing firm against abuse when “The Dad is so good with the children.” The women who show up on their doors have very specific needs and a very specific process for healing.
Just for comparison, look at the Counties that border Cuyahoga County. What follows is the Counties listed in order of number of shelter beds for Domestic Violence victims per resident (based on 2005 Census figures).
Geauga County 16 beds, 95,218 people or 1 bed for every 5,951 people
Summit County 90 beds, 546,604 people or 1 bed for every 6,073 people
Erie County 10 beds, 78,665 people or 1 bed for every 7,867 people
Lake County 27 beds, 232,466 people or 1 bed for every 8,610 people
Medina County 18 beds, 167,010 people or 1 bed for every 13,469 people
Lorain County 22 beds, 296,307 people or 1 bed for every 13,469 people
Portage County 5 beds, 155,631 people or 1 bed for every 31,126 people
Cuyahoga County 34 beds, 1335,317 people or 1 bed for every 39,274 people
Where are all the corporations? The beer companies? The Women’s Rights organizations? How did we let it get so bad that we only have 34 beds for the women and children fleeing a domestic violence situation in Cuyahoga County? The state Attorney General’s 2004 report has startling figures on the incidents of violence against a spouse/roommate/date in Ohio. The state reports shows that just in 2004, 1 in 100 women were abused and yet we have only 34 dedicated beds in Cuyahoga County! We have an Office of Homeless Service, but they never sounded the alarm that there were problems with sustaining these programs or tried to raise awareness about problems within the system. Why don’t some of the largest foundations or United Way hold a community dialogue about this problem? Where are the County Commissioners on this issue or local religious leaders?
My suggestion is that each city within the County should have their own strategy to address domestic violence within their community. Each of the cities would set their own goals to move toward zero incidents of violence. In the spirit of regionalism a few cities could join to set up DV emergency shelters to meet the need and share resources to fund these facilities. The Domestic Violence Center in Cleveland could oversee training, administer the program, and coordinate advocacy for all these facilities. For too long, we have relied on a shrinking number of community leaders to worry about this problem and shamefully, we have made little progress. National studies show that 1 in 4 women will experience violence in their lifetime, but with a little leadership we could make Cuyahoga County a lot safer for women.
One positive note in this disturbing song is that the State of Ohio passed Senate Bill 313, the family violence exemption to welfare rules, by adding it to a child welfare amendment. The Ohio Empowerment Coalition has worked on this issue for a couple of years. This will allow women facing domestic violence to be exempt from welfare time limits. Currently, each County as the option to adopt exemptions to welfare time limits. Cuyahoga only recently allowed family violence as an exemption. Now it is time for all Ohio counties facing economic hard times to exempt those families who cannot find living wage employment.
Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine June 2006 – Issue 76