Lacking space, Philly shelter must turn away thousands of abuse victims

    “No vacancy.”

    Abused women looking for emergency shelter in Philadelphia are hearing that phrase more and more often these days.

    Women Against Abuse, the city’s only domestic violence shelter, is on track to turn away battered residents about 10,000 times this year for lack of space.

    The shelter has been forced to say “no vacancy” to domestic violence victims 8,890 times between January and October 2013, marking an increase in turnaways for the fifth straight year. In all of 2012, the shelter said “no vacancy” 8,199 times; in 2011, 7,946 times; in 2010, 7,288 times; in 2009, 4,671 times; and in 2008, 1,705 times. 

    Jeannine Lisitski, executive director of Women Against Abuse, blames the trend, in part, on the troubled economy.

    “Abuse cuts across all socioeconomic [statuses], all ethnicities, everything. But if you are poor and being abused, you don’t have as many options,” she said. “So you’re going to be reaching out more.”

    She also said that greater awareness of Philadelphia’s domestic violence hotline (866-723-3014) may be a factor.

    Women Against Abuse is planning to open a second shelter in June with the help of a $2.5 million city contract, making 100 extra beds available, for a total of 200 beds for domestic violence victims in Philadelphia. Lisitski hopes that will help turn around the alarming trend, though she said it won’t fully meet the demand for emergency housing.

    “People want to know what the answer is. The answer is a policy nationwide of affordable housing,” she said. “That’s what it would take to have zero turnaways.”

    She said other big U.S. cities typically set aside 250 beds for victims of domestic violence.

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