Last week, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) published the results of their annual “Domestic Violence Counts” survey. This study, conducted every fall, provides a one-day snapshot of the demand for services from domestic violence programs across the country and in each state.
Several things stood out from the data collected in Massachusetts. On one day (September 10, 2014) 1,795 survivors received services from the 51 participating programs in the state. 855 people (427 children and 428 adults) found refuge in local domestic violence shelters. 940 adults and children received non-residential services, such as counseling, legal advocacy, and support groups. 398 requests for services, including emergency shelter, transitional housing, and non-residential services, could not be met because programs did not have the resources to provide these services.
The Census tells us several important things: many people across the Commonwealth and around the country are receiving services every day from programs like REACH, and they are receiving a wide variety of services. In addition, every year this Census shows that there are not enough resources to meet the need, which is why REACH and other Jane Doe Inc. programs are looking for an increase in related parts of this year’s state budget. An increase may not meet the entire need, but it will be a step in the right direction. Last but not least, the Census data shows that there is no one approach to addressing the needs of domestic violence survivors. The complexity of the need requires robust services and responses, including not only emergency shelter, but community based services, prevention, children’s services, and more.
This very much reflects what we are seeing and experiencing here at REACH. By far the biggest demand we see is for individual advocacy – someone to meet with face to face to talk about multiple issues including domestic violence. In the past year the most requested services have been advocacy around the need for housing, transportation, legal issues, applying for and keeping benefits, medical issues and basic needs.
We continue to struggle to meet the needs of survivors seeking safe and affordable housing – as there are waiting lists upwards of 2 years or more even for individuals with emergency safety needs. In addition, finding low cost attorneys who understand domestic violence continues to be a great need for survivors who don’t qualify for free legal services. Probate court attorneys are especially hard to come by at costs that don’t wipe out savings for survivors.
Keeping bilingual staff at our shelter has been difficult. We also have a hard time finding mental health services for our Spanish Speaking clients as again, there are huge waiting lists for those services within the communities we serve.
There are many ways you can help us continue to try and meet this ever-growing set of needs. Your financial support, particularly as we come to the end of our fiscal year, provides advocacy services and direct assistance to survivors. In addition, if you’d like to reach out to your lawmakers, you can find out more about the statewide coalition of domestic and sexual violence programs and our advocacy around the state budget process by clicking here.
And if you would like to volunteer with REACH (especially if you speak Spanish!), we could always use help. If you or someone you know is an attorney or mental health professional who could offer free or low-cost services to survivors in need, we would love to hear from you. Check out this page to learn more about opportunities to get involved. With your help, next year’s census numbers could look a lot different.