On any given day, 350 advocates work to help victims of domestic violence in Connecticut. But because of shrinking funds, Connecticut has 10 less domestic violence workers this year, and most of those lost jobs were in direct services – the critical part of programs designed to meet the needs of a domestic violence victim who’s worked up the guts to call a hotline number.
Those lost positions have contributed to some ugly statistics. On Sept. 17, 2013, according to the annual National Census of Domestic Violence Services, 103 requests for help went unmet because of a lack of staff, or lack of funding – which often is the same thing. Of those unmet needs, 98 were requests for housing – so there were 98 victims who couldn’t find room at their local domestic violence shelter, or in any of the state’s transitional housing programs.
Karen Jarmoc, executive director of Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that instead of finding safe housing, those victims were paired with advocates to brainstorm what might be their next best option.
So where did those 98 go? Thirty-five went back to their abusers, to God-knows-what, but what most likely included more abuse. They rolled the dice and went back.
Seven went to the streets, to become homeless. They chose the dangers of the unknown to that of the known. The rest? Who knows?
All told, we know from the census that 855 victims of domestic violence were helped by Connecticut’s local domestic violence programs on that September day. Of those served, 303 were moved into emergency shelters or transitional housing, which advocates say is the optimal outcome when there’s violence or the threat of violence at home. Some 552 adults and children didn’t need housing, but received other kinds of help, including counseling, legal advocacy, and information about children’s support groups.
Advocates quote studies that say victims of domestic violence leave their abuser an average of seven times. Each time, the need for appropriate services is critical. Are we doing all we can, as a state, to provide that?
No. We aren’t.
The National Network to End Domestic Violence says that 38 percent of all domestic violence victims become homeless at least once during their lives, and 63 percent of women who are homeless have been victims of intimate partner violence. Other studies place the percentage far higher. That this happens in the land of plenty that is Connecticut is unbearable.
Ninety-five percent of domestic violence victims are women, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Jarmoc says the state’s domestic violence shelters consistently operate at roughly 95-98 percent capacity. Women are coming into the system and staying longer, which makes it harder for others to make the transition to permanent and stable housing.
Calls to Connecticut hotlines have increased, which Jarmoc says shouldn’t be taken as a sign that domestic violence has increased in the state. Her group has worked hard for the last few years to publicize the help that’s available — when it’s available, that is. The coalition is also partnering with like-minded agencies such as the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, Jarmoc said, to train advocates and offer the best services they can with the resources available.
To meet the growing needs, the coalition recently asked Connecticut legislators to fund 16 advocates in family court, where victims file restraining orders. The budget that recently came out of the legislative appropriations committee funded just two positions, starting in January. That’s not nearly enough, but as Jarmoc says, “We’ll take it.” Those two family court advocates will be assigned where there’s the greatest need, most likely in a more heavily populated urban area, Jarmoc said.
In the meantime, Connecticut has women at their most vulnerable who are reaching out for help that isn’t there. Workers in domestic violence services do heroic jobs with the resources they have, but is this really an area in which we can afford to scrimp?
We simply must do better.