2009 has been a challenging year for many due to the economic downturn—the impact of the recession on survivors of domestic violence and their ability to access safety has been particularly acute. In their article entitled “Recession can be deadly for domestic abuse victims” (Boston Globe, December 25, 2008), Mary R. Lauby and Sue Else note, “Economic stresses often lead to more frequent abuse, more violent abuse, and more dangerous abuse when domestic violence already exists. Domestic violence programs report that victims experience an increase in abuse in part because out-of-work abusers have more opportunity to batter…Victims end up with fewer opportunities to contact programs for help, attend support groups, or get away from the batterer.”
Last year, Sakhi responded to 673 new requests for assistance, more than triple the number of new requests in 2001, while providing intensive, ongoing case management services to 120-150 survivors of violence. As our growing ongoing caseload indicates, we are seeing a resurgence of women who have utilized Sakhi’s crisis response services in the past reach out to us again as abuse at home worsens.
With resources dwindling, we are also seeing a dramatic rise in the number of low or no-income survivors of violence requesting support through Sakhi’s pioneering Economic Empowerment (EE) Program. In the last quarter of 2009 alone, Sakhi enabled access to computer classes, job training and placement, financial literacy, educational grants, assistance obtaining public benefits, and other critical services for approximately 64 survivors. Of those 64 women who received EE services in the last quarter, 57 received ongoing services and emotional support—a dramatic increase from 2008 when Sakhi provided ongoing EE support to about 34 women each quarter.
Among the hurdles that the economic downturn has created, the lack of jobs and affordable housing have figured most prominently and left survivors with fewer options. The competition for entry level positions has been aggressive; a significant number of women we work with are new to the workforce and recent immigrants with limited English proficiency. To address this issue, we have spent more time enabling access to English classes, providing interview coaching, engaging women in exploring more than one career option, and offering ongoing emotional support. We have encouraged and assisted women in applying for all jobs they feel comfortable pursuing. We have helped more women apply for unemployment and public benefits this quarter than ever before. Additionally, we have increased time spent on financial literacy—cost reduction strategies are key to surviving through these tough economic times. Given the impact of the economy on the families of survivors, Sakhi has also helped more women access family services.
In 2009, we also received more applications for Sakhi’s Swarna Chalasani Economic Empowerment grants this year than ever before, but for the first time some applicants were denied scholarships due to lack of funds. Several survivors who received financial assistance through the Swarna Fund were unable to pursue educational opportunities because their employers were less flexible and they could not afford to cut down their work hours. Emergency and scholarship funds that Sakhi has helped women access in the past are also drying up.
Securing permanent housing has been even harder for many survivors. Each year Sakhi helps 30-40 women with low or no-income apply for Section 8 housing subsidies through the New York City Housing Authority. In the past, nearly all of the applications were readily approved. Towards the end of 2009, however, the Housing Authority announced they were no longer accepting Section 8 applications or processing existing vouchers, citing insufficient funding for the program. To make matters worse, in the midst of the holiday season, shortly before the New Year, the Housing Authority revoked 3,000 housing vouchers from low-income families. According to the Legal Aid Society, which has filed a lawsuit against the Housing Authority, families did not receive proper notification that their vouchers were revoked, nor were public hearings (as required) held on the measures. Nearly 400 of those who lost their housing vouchers in December are domestic violence survivors, according to Legal Aid, and this number includes women we work with at Sakhi. Legal Aid argues that while it would take $28 million to save the housing vouchers, it will cost the city $108 million in homeless shelter costs to support those who become homeless as a result of these measures.
Despite these challenges, we at Sakhi have seen an outpouring of community support for our work with South Asian domestic violence survivors. In 2009 Sakhi volunteers contributed an unprecedented 8,224 hours, approximately 2 years and 10 months, of in in-kind support! The generous financial support of the Prasad family in 2009 enabled Sakhi to award Swarna Fund grants to survivors pursuing educational opportunities. Sakhi is also a proud partner with the Women’s Independence Scholarship Program (WISP). By sponsoring WISP applications for women we work with, survivors have received financial support to cover their full college tuition and living expenses. Sakhi’s cutting-edge, linguistically and culturally appropriate services for survivors also received national recognition—in 2009 Sakhi was awarded its first federal grant through the Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women. As we enter a new decade, we look forward to working with our community and supporters to build upon Sakhi’s achievements in 2009.