This is one of an occasional post from Margaret Epperheimer, a seven-year member of Next Door’s Board of Directors.
Kudos to the San Jose Mercury News for putting a human face to the plight of women and children fleeing abuse and confronting the “no vacancy” sign at local shelters. The recent front-page story, featuring the plight of Melissa Strawn and her two young sons, details the statewide dilemma of increasing need and more severe abuse, at the same time budgets are being cut and shelters are closing. Next Door’s Kathleen Krenek calls this “the reality of shredding the safety net.” Indeed!
Tragically, it’s not just domestic violence programs and services that are suffering. Recent years have seen cuts upon cuts of government funding for social and human services. Unfortunately, the abused, the homeless, the disabled and the disadvantaged tend not to have a voice. They are too fearful, injured, sick or simply incapable of doing anything other than struggle day-to-day to survive. Because they are invisible to most of us, we are lulled into believing they do not exist — or at least don’t exist in the staggering and increasing numbers the local health and human services agencies are seeing.
Next Door is not the only agency in the Bay Area providing domestic violence services and emergency shelter, but, like the others, it is operating at capacity. Its emergency shelter in San Jose, which happens to be the first bilingual battered woman’s shelter in the U.S., provides more than 5,500 bed-nights annually to victims fleeing domestic violence. It provides supportive services at HomeSafe facilities in San Jose and Santa Clara, which are 48 affordable transitional housing units for women and children – also at capacity. Staff and volunteers operating 24/7 crisis hotline (408-279-2962) responded to more than 15,000 calls last year. Amazing!
Domestic violence shelters are often the only thing standing between victims and grave physical harm. We may look the other way because we have our own safe, peaceful, non-violent homes to shelter us and our loved ones. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re not affected.
With domestic violence on the rise in the declining economy, serious public safety issues increase. Studies show gangs, child abuse, juvenile detention and violent crime are all tied to exposure to domestic violence. The cost to a community is staggering in terms of health care, property loss, ambulance services, police response, criminal justice processes and lost productivity.
Those of us who are safe, warm and peaceful in our homes need to help shoulder the responsibility of making certain there’s shelter for those whose escape from a batterer can mean the difference between life and death. Our shelters are over-flowing, but if we all ante up, agencies can provide more emergency hotel-night stays to victims whose only hope of survival is to flee. It won’t take much if we all share the burden. Can you afford $25 right now to provide someone with one night’s peace? Do it!