Just five years ago there were two organizations serving the needs of homeless women fleeing an abuser with the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Templum House in operation. Neither was overly healthy, but how many independent non-profits were during the beginning of this six year nightmare recession in Cuyahoga County? They merged and now we have gone from four separate shelters to one. We have changed the definition of domestic violence so that we serve only those immediately fleeing an abuser. While studies show between 70-80% of the women in the emergency shelters have some abuse in their past, Cuyahoga County has tightened the definition to reduce, on paper, the numbers. This is not to condemn the one agency left serving Domestic Violence victims. The Domestic Violence Center staff do amazing work 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 the population, but there are plenty of women who have no where to turn for help.
We made a mistake 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." We have a network of DV shelters in the state for a reason. The women who show up on their doors have very specific needs and a very specific process for healing. The Coalition was never asked to comment on this merger, but we must take some of the blame that we did not speak up and realize how negative this could be for the women.
Just for comparison lets look at the Counties that touch 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 9,278 people
Lorain County 22 beds 296,307 people or 1 bed for every 13,469 people.
Portage County 5 beds with 155,631 people or 1 bed for every 31,126 people.
Cuyahoga County 34 beds with 1,335,317 people or 1 bed for every 39,274 people.
(Who knew Portage County had so many people--I checked it twice.)
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 women 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 Services, but they did not sound the alarm that there were problems with sustaining these programs or raise awareness about problems within the system. There is a domestic violence funding organization that divides up the scarce resources, and yet we never heard from this group.
The Coalition is never a big fan of shelter because it is really just a band aid for a larger problems in society. But Domestic Violence is different. Women need a safe place that an abuser cannot easily find to get their bank accounts secure, their children relocated, and work with law enforcement to assure their safety. We all took our eye off the ball, and the power players in the community (City, United Way, County, Foundations, and Religious leaders) should hold a summit on violence to get us back on track.
My two cents on Domestic Violence is that each City within the County should have their own strategy to address violence within their community. Each of the cities would set their own goals for moving to 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 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 we have made little progress. National studies show that 1 in 4 women will experience violence in their lifetime, and with leadership we could make Cuyahoga County a lot safer for women.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.