Philadelphia's only emergency shelter for battered women has been forced to turn away thousands of victims because it just didn't have enough room.
Now, after several years of budget cuts, the nonprofit group Women Against Abuse is building a second shelter for victims of domestic violence with the help of a $2.5 million city grant. The shelter is scheduled to open by the end of 2013.
It will provide 100 additional shelter beds, for a total of 200 beds in Philly.
Renee Norris-Jones has passionately lobbied City Council members for increased city funding. She knows how harrowing it is to learn that the shelter is full.
Norris-Jones tried to flee her abusive husband throughout the 1970s. When she finally got the courage to call the emergency shelter on a payphone, though, she often found there wasn't enough room for her.
"I remember standing out there, rain, snow, sleet or hail, making that phone call," she said. "And they say, 'There's no room.'"
Eventually, there was room for her at the shelter. In fact, she said the shelter's staff helped her escape to Texas to get away from her husband. That wasn't the last time she saw him, but, finally, she did break free from the abusive relationship.
"I'm alive today because of them," she said.
In fiscal year 2008, the shelter had to turn away abuse victims 1,906 times. Last fiscal year, it said "no" 8,465 times.
'Only the beginning,' Council member vows
Jeannine Lisitski, executive director of Women Against Abuse, said the new facility will accommodate an additional 600 women and children annually.
"Today, we celebrate a victory," she said. "This is a remarkable accomplishment. At the same time, it is important to recognize the magnitude of the need this new facility will help us overcome."
Lisitski said that even with a second shelter, the group will likely still have to turn women away. She said several other big U.S. cities have 250 shelter beds dedicated to domestic violence victims.
"The sheer number of women and children that need this service is horrific," she said.
City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson pledged ongoing support for abused women, calling this "only the beginning."