We are not a domestic violence shelter, which means that we are not in a position to help people fleeing critical danger. However, the problem of violence against women is so pervasive that we frequently hear horrendous stories and find ourselves helping women with children cope with the trauma of family violence long after the incidents ended.
At PATH Achieve’s recent annual fundraiser our transitional housing client, Blanca, bravely shared her experience of escaping violence at home with her children. Beaten by her husband when she was five months pregnant, she made the courageous decision to leave him, taking with her two small children. The abuse led to the early delivery of her baby while she was homeless. Blanca’s story has taken a more encouraging turn as we have helped her with shelter and now transitional housing. Free from the violence, her son thrives in school, her daughter is about to enter pre-school and her baby has overcome most of the health issues that accompanied his birth. Blanca herself has been an inspiration to us, working part-time while she attends school. Blanca’s story, from married mother to homelessness to recovery, is not uncommon among victims of domestic violence, though the journey is long and difficult.
Far less acknowledged is the violence against women who are already homeless. This reality raised its ugly head recently when a client we had been assisting through the Access Center disclosed that a man had attacked her. She mentioned it in such a nonchalant way that it took the case manager a moment to understand what she was say.
You mean he raped you?
We notified the police about the attack, not at all certain about the outcome. We are more relieved to know that this woman’s safety is better assured though not guaranteed now that she is living in her own home.
Women who remain on the streets tend to have a higher incidence of mental illness and substance abuse. This leaves them extremely vulnerable to predatory behaviors. While searching the web, I found a study that examined the vulnerability of women in terms of their geographic location. The recommendation from the researchers was that homeless service providers locate their services in safe neighborhoods. This struck me on two critical points. One is how the authors completely sidestepped the issue of why we continue to permit women to remain on the streets. The other is the assumption that homeless service providers have a whole lot of choice about where they locate. And beyond that a latent acceptance that neighborhoods cannot be made safer.
In the end, what really matters is that no one is safe when they are living on the streets. We can make all kinds of excuses about why there isn’t enough housing or why we can’t serve particular people. None of it takes away from the fact that every night, in neighborhoods across the country, women are making the streets their home. And they are not safe.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence call 911 for immediate assistance or these hotlines for counseling or shelter:
Glendale YWCA Domestic Violence Hotline:Â (818) 242-1106
National Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE
Locally, the City of Glendale Commission on the Status of Women has convened the Glendale Domestic Violence Task Force to better coordinate services for victims of domestic violence. Task force members include commissioners, City staff and local agencies, including the YWCA, Neighborhood Legal Services, PATH Achieve Glendale, Glendale Healthy Kids, Armenian Relief Society, City Attorney and Glendale Police Department.
National Organizations engaged in advocacy include:
In California, Governor Schwarzenegger recently rejected an increase to marriage license fees that would have gone to domestic violence shelters. California advocacy includes the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.
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