In this column space, I often get a break from writing about the bad news, the crime and the dark side of a community. I get to write about human interests — people, their jobs, a unique project in a community or one’s hobby. You know, the lighter side of life.
But October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Grand Canyon State — and the East Valley — is not immune from the rising issue of domestic violence.
One in four women, at some point in their lives, will become a victim of domestic violence.
In fact, during the last few years, the problem has increased and gotten more severe, according to Connie Phillips, who has served as the executive director of the central Phoenix-based Soujourner Center for the last 18 years. Sojourner is a 35-year-old nonprofit organization that has three domestic violence shelters in the Valley serving women and children but routinely turns away half of the those seeking help, not so much of a lack of space, but because of what else? Budget cuts.
However, the Hope campus of the center, which is at an undisclosed location in central Phoenix, celebrated recent renovations on Wednesday that included energy efficiency improvements which are expected to save the center about $20,000 a year. The event was sponsored by Shea Homes, Newland Homes and Wal-Mart.
Most recently, Sojourner fell victim to a large budget cut in June — to the tune of $500,000, or 10 percent of its operating budget — because of a decision by the Department of Economic Security to allocate the funds elsewhere.
The result was decreasing the amount of bed space at the shelter from 156 to 60. There’s space for 200 beds, but half of the building is not being used due to renovations that need to be made.
“It was an important, meaningful event,” Phillips said. “In order for women to leave abusive situations, No. 1, they need a place to go. No. 2, they need support when they get there.
“Who’s going to do it?” Phillips asked of finding new funding sources. “It’s us. It’s individuals. People have to step up. We’re looking for people who have a heart for domestic violence victims. The reality is that government resources are going to dwindle if they don’t stabilize.”
The shelter serves numerous women from our East Valley communities of Mesa, Tempe, Chandler and Gilbert and also receives about $15,000 in funding from the City of Tempe.
And Phillips said that it is often important for women who find the courage to get out of volatile and dangerous situations from their husbands to get out of the community in which they live so they are out of the sight of their abusers and improve their chances of not running into them so they can take steps toward safety, empowerment and transformation.
My Sister’s Place Shelter in Chandler and Autumn House in Mesa are small shelters and often have waiting lists for women to get into them.
The first Sojourner Center was started in an old house in central Phoenix serving slightly more than 20 people. A few years later, a second center was opened and about seven years ago, the group acquired a 1970s-era building in central Phoenix that once was a nursing home that still needs renovations and upgrades.
Years ago, women often sought refuge from abusive relationships by escaping to laundromats, Phillips said. It was a place that was open late, other people often were there and it provided a pay phone where calls could be made to family or friends. But much advancement has been made in the way of shelters and providing services, and
While numerous representatives of domestic violence organizations often have experienced domestic violence, Phillips said she has not and knows the value of a safe home.
“To me, safety is a basic human right,” Phillips said. “We solved the problem once by expanding our services and we know how many beds we can provide. It’s up to us the people to step up and back to make that possible again so we don’t go backward.”
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