Assistant Managing Editor
HOLYOKE Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray returned to Western Massachusetts to reaffirm the Administration's commitment to support domestic violence programs in the Commonwealth.
Murray, who chairs the Governor's Council to Address Sexual and Domestic Violence, participated in a roundtable discussion at the offices for the Womanshelter/Companeras in Holyoke. Staff and board members had the opportunity to explain the role Womanshelter/Companeras plays in the lives of victims of abuse and the importance of having funding to keep those programs alive.
Approximately two weeks ago the Patrick Administration began more than $1 billion in immediate cuts and spending controls across the state after being faced with an estimated budget deficit of $1.4 billion. So far no cuts have been made to the budget line items that support domestic violence and victim programs such as Domestic Violence Advocacy Programs, Domestic Violence Specialists, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Treatment and Support Services for People at Risk of Domestic Violence.
Shelter Manager Luz Vega said that it can be hard to help a family transition from the shelter under normal circumstances, let alone during the current economic state. She said there is a lack of jobs, better housing, adequate daycare and at times families may have to stay in the shelter longer because of these reasons which prevents another family from coming in.
Vega said seven to 10 years ago it was easier to help families get Section 8 Housing. Now families can remain up to five years on a waiting list.
Karen Boyle Cavanaugh, executive director of Womanshelter/Companeras, told Murray that people often ask why does she, the victim, stay in the abusive relationship.
"The question is where does she go?" Cavanaugh said, adding that when you factor in expenses like $1,000 rent and putting down first, last and security deposits, that can play a big part in victims staying in bad situations.
Vega wants Womanshelter/Companeras to always be an available option to families in need.
"We provide everything for families, [from] shelter to counseling," Vega explained. "Please call us, we're still going to help and still going to find a way to cover these services."
The staff thanked Murray for shining the spotlight on domestic violence and helping bring more awareness to the issue.
Murray said many played a role in in keeping funding for domestic violence programs a reality.
"It's across the board the governor, the first lady. It's not a lieutenant governor thing, it's an Administration thing," Murray said.
As Reminder Publications previously reported, there has been a significant increase in domestic violence-related homicides in Massachusetts. In 2005 there were 15 murders from domestic violence. That figure increased to 42 in 2007, according to information supplied by Jane Doe Inc., the state's coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence. Last year there were 4,000 calls on the Womanshelter/Companeras hotline.
Board of Directors President Brenda Bak knows first-hand it is critical to have funding for these services. In fact, she is not just an advocate for domestic violence victims. More than 20 years ago, she personally benefitted from the services of Womanshelter/Companeras.
"I am very proud to be able to come back at this stage of my life and help at this capacity," she said after the discussion. "I think that it was also fabulous for [Murray] to come down and listen to people who work at this level, to feel their pain and not through a third person. The lieutenant governor shared with us that domestic violence was not included in part of the budget cuts and we're extremely grateful."
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For more information on Womanshelter/Companeras and their services, call the 24-hour hotline at 1-877-536-1628 or visit www.womanshelter.org.