One of the most important prerequisites for battered women leaving the homes where they are being abused is having a safe place to go. Prior to the 1970s, this meant women needed to have either family or friends willing and able to take them in or access to a "safe home network" (imagine a form of underground railroad or system of foster care for abuse survivors) -- and many had neither. Shelters for people who were homeless were few and far between and were typically designed for men and didn’t accept women and children. Since the early 1970s and the opening of the first battered women’s shelters in England and the United States, there have been safe places for women and children fleeing their homes and the abusive men in them.
However, there still aren’t enough of these shelters and those that exist are typically under-funded. In the United States, shelters for the protection of animals opened almost 100 years before shelters for the protection of women and their children and there are still approximately three times as many of these shelters for pets. Not all counties in America have even one shelter to provide safe haven for human abuse survivors. Up until 1989, Berkshire was one of those counties.
In recent years, a tough economy has had brutal impact on domestic violence shelters across the country. Almost 80 percent have lost some of their government funding, 65 percent have received fewer contributions from individual donors, 60 percent have experienced cuts in foundation funding, and half saw their corporate funding drop. Simultaneously, most shelters report growing demand for their services coupled with increasing severity of violence in the lives of their residents.
Locally, we are not exempt from these challenges and it is against this backdrop that the Elizabeth Freeman Center is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the opening of Berkshire County’s shelter for survivors of domestic violence. The original fundraising campaign to furnish the residence was called "A Room of Her Own" after the Virginia Woolf novel "A Room of One’s Own."
After 25 years and housing thousands of survivors, "her room" needs to be replenished. We at the Freeman Center are inviting you to participate in and support this anniversary by inviting you to a "Community Household Shower" from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pittsfield at 175 Wendell Ave. We are registered at both Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Target. To locate our registry enter first name as "EFC" and last name as "Shelter." At Target.com look under Target Lists. You can purchase as little as one teaspoon or as much as your heart, in combination with your wallet, will allow. Choose from items such as towels, dinner spoons, small kitchen appliances, a gas grill, sheets, blankets, and pillows.
While your material support is vitally important to this event, we genuinely value the moral support that this community provides to the agency, its staff, and most importantly to the people we serve. This is an anniversary and we hope you can join with us to celebrate it. We look forward to seeing you on Wendell Avenue on Thursday.
Dr. Susan Birns is secretary of the Board of Directors of the Elizabeth Freeman Center and chairperson of the Sociology/Anthropology/Social Work Department at MCLA.