On a single day last year, domestic violence support programs were unable to meet 9,641 requests for help, from emergency shelter to legal representation, according to the latest census from the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV). “This means that over 9,000 times an advocate was forced to tell a courageous caller or person at the door that, unfortunately, there was no bed, counselor, or attorney available to help,” the report notes.
The organization attributes this unmet need to the financial situation of the country’s domestic violence programs. More than a quarter say that they couldn’t provide the support because of cuts in government spending and 20 percent said it was because of staff reductions. Nearly 1,700 staff positions were eliminated across the country last year.
Of the unmet needs, the most, or 42 percent, were for emergency shelter. “[I]n most places, the demand for emergency shelter is outpacing the availability,” the report notes, as more than 4,000 requests went unmet. Nearly 200 programs had to reduce or eliminate emergency housing last year. This leaves many victims in extreme danger. As an Oregon advocate relates in the report, the program got a call on its 24-hour crisis line requesting emergency shelter. “She was fleeing from her abuser, who had found her at her sister’s house and assaulted her so badly she ended up in the hospital,” the advocate says. “Unfortunately, we have no shelter space available, and she has nowhere to go.”
Another 40 percent of unmet needs were for services that weren’t related to housing, and 18 percent were for transitional housing. Transitional housing can be critical for getting victims back on their feet as they leave emergency shelter, but only 42 percent of programs are able to provide it and 71 had to reduce or eliminate this service in the past year.
Low funding and staff led programs to cut back on other services. Ninety-four reduced or eliminated transportation services, but many victims don’t have cars or money for gas to get to shelters. An advocate in Rhode Island reported that a woman who had been severely beaten by her husband and was living in a homeless shelter needed a confidential shelter so he couldn’t find her. “We were full and the only shelter with space available was a few states away,” the advocate said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have any transportation funds to get her to that shelter.” Sixty-nine cut back on legal representation, but victims often need support in navigating the legal system.
When these programs were asked what happens most often when survivors are turned away from services, 60 percent said they return to their abusers, and another 27 percent said they become homeless.
This is NNEDV’s eighth census, a snapshot of domestic violence needs and services around the country conducted on September 17, 2013. The good news is that 66,581 adults and children received the services they needed.
But domestic violence shelters and programs have been dealing with reduced funding for some time. They suffered a severe drop last year under sequestration when the automatic budget cuts took a $20 million chunk out of their funding. Yet even before those cuts took place, programs were grappling with smaller budgets. In 2012, nearly 80 percent said they were getting lower government funding and many were also getting less money from private sources of funding. That meant 43 percent had to reduce their services, even as most shelters reported an increase in demand as well as the severity of abuse.
The consequences can’t be overstated. As one program in California told ThinkProgress, “As [services] get cut we’re going to see more and more homicides.”