2003 Fourth Annual Public Forum

Unlocking the Door: Creative Solutions to Domestic Violence

A recent U.S. Conference of Mayors study shows that 57percent of homeless families identified domestic violence as primary cause of homelessness. This statistic, which links family violence to the enormous burdens accompanying homelessness, reveals why many battered women do not leave the batterer.On March 6th, The New York Women’s Foundation addressed this issue in its fourth annual Public Forum, “Unlocking the Door: Creative Solutions to Domestic Violence,” at the Center for New York City Affairs and the Nonprofit Management Program at the New School University’s Milano Graduate School of Management and Urban Policy. Over 120 attendees listened as testimonials were given by members of Voices of Women Organizing Project (VOW), about their experiences as victims and survivors. With temporary shelter costing the City up to $10,000 a month for a family of five, VOW members noted that permanent housing would only cost the City as little as $1,300. Keynote speaker and magazine trailblazer Marcia Ann Gillespie spoke of the importance of recognizing the impact family violence has on families and communities, and she observed that global violence often begins — and should be stopped — at home.

NYWF’s Executive Director, Miriam Buhl, moderated the Forum panel discussion on the obstacles faced by low-income women in search of a violence-free life: immigration concerns, cultural or language barriers, bureaucratic hurdles, and the shortage of comprehensive legal assistance that would contemplate all of these. The panelists drew attention to ways that systems work at cross purposes and pointed out creative ways to support affected families. HousingLink Coordinator Jill Stein described how the intricacies of New York’s complex emergency housing system may deter survivors from seeking shelter, and she described her project’s advocacy for designated housing for battered women and their families. VOW member Tracey Little underscored this by citing her personal experiences and urged the inclusion of survivors in all aspects of the safety net system, from providing testimonials at court hearings to representation on the policymaking level. Sharon Stapel, a staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society, emphasized ways the legal community can work in collaboration with service providers and the families to ensure that survivors’ needs are addressed in a comprehensive way. Fran Gau, Director of Counseling of the New York Asian Women’s Center, spoke of the stigma in immigrant communities about exposing violence in their homes and stressed the importance of service providers’ sensitivity to language and cultural differences. Finally, Alisa Del Tufo of the Urban Justice Center’s Family Violence Project called for earlier, community-based efforts to prevent or deal with domestic disturbance, citing local institutions like faith-based groups and childcare centers as logical educational and intervention resources.

The New York Women’s Foundation’s thought-provoking Forum shed light on the complexities of the issue and challenged the audience to think creatively about ways to support women and their families.

The Foundation extends thanks to all Forum participants and congratulates the Forum committee co-chairs on a successful event.

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