Safe havens in short supply

It is a disgrace that 7,705 women and their children were turned away from Philadelphia’s domestic violence shelter, which is so woefully small that it only has 100 beds.

Some of these women found protection in other abuse shelters in nearby counties or states. Some went to city homeless shelters, which aren’t equipped to help them break the cycle of abuse. But even those shelters are overburdened and could not take care of all of those who were turned away in Philadelphia.

Too many went back to the clenched fists of their abusers.

A few may have been murdered, Nicole Lindemyer of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence recently told a City Council committee. Turned away from a shelter, abused women are “going back to their abusers, over and over again, and they’re being killed,” she said.


What can be done to help more women and children facing domestic abuse?

There were 27 domestic homicides in Philadelphia last year. There also were 115,000 incidents of domestic violence. Domestic abuse is chronically underreported, so imagine how high the real number is.

Philadelphia gets credit for keeping the murder number down. After a spike from 20 to 37 domestic homicides in 2009, the Police Department began tracking high-risk cases and followed up with abuse victims.

Clearly, with 7,705 victims turned away last year, the city can’t keep up with the current problem and that exacerbates future problems. Research shows that children who witness the horrendous violence are “more likely to be perpetrators or victims when they get older,” says Jeanine Lisitski, executive director of Woman Against Abuse.

The frequency of abuse and the burden on the shelter has rapidly grown in the recession. In 2008, the shelter turned away 1,700, and last year that number quadrupled. Job losses and other money problems increase stress which, in turn, increase the likelihood of abuse. Sadly, the family and friends a victim would turn to have fewer resources to help. So does the government. Women Against Abuse, which operates the city’s shelter and provides legal help and counseling for victims, lost $300,000 in 2009 that was never restored.

“If we had to take another cut, we would have to cut beds,” Lisitski said.

But that’s exactly what Gov. Corbett would do. He plans to dump social-service funding into a block grant and cut funding by 20 percent. While the block grant could be more efficient than the current system, the cuts of still unknown proportions could be devastating. It would be better for Corbett to test the block grant concept without the funding cut.

Lisitski says the Nutter administration should have an abuse coordinator, probably housed in the Health Department. That person could pull together health, homeless, child-welfare, behavioral, and other relevant social services, including the school district and law enforcement, to direct care for abuse victims.

That’s a sharp idea and one the administration, which has worked hard to modernize government, should consider. Philadelphia can no longer tolerate having abused women and their children denied a safe haven.