2021-09-14-BIRNSCOLPIC

In the world of providing services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence, the past 18 months have been the double whammy — community resources for clients became less and less accessible during a global pandemic, while the need for these resources escalated due to significant increases in both the frequency and severity of the violence in homes.

This has been compounded by the challenges faced by agency staff themselves who have had to do increasingly difficult work while confronting pandemic challenges in their own lives.

Throughout the pandemic, especially during its first year, many domestic and sexual assault service agencies were forced to temporarily close their doors — especially those providing shelter. But not the Elizabeth Freeman Center.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence publishes an annual “snapshot” documenting the unmet needs of domestic violence survivors on one day. Their most recent national report was based on data collected on Sept. 10, 2020. On that one day alone, domestic violence agencies across the country received more than 11,000 requests for help that they could not provide due to lack of funding. More than half of these unmet needs were for housing or emergency shelter. State-level data from the same report documents that in Massachusetts, victims made 434 requests for services that could not be provided and, like the national picture, more than 50 percent of this unmet need was for housing.

At the local level, EFC never closed our doors. Our hotline received 40 percent more calls and requests for emergency shelter increased by more than 60 percent. When our shelter didn’t have room on-site, we made other emergency arrangements to keep survivors safe, housed, clothed and fed. Shelter residents actually received more services in the form of three meals a day cooked and served to them.

Of course, providing services costs money and must be a true partnership between all levels of government and local communities (including businesses, charitable organizations and individuals). And this is where you come in. September means it’s time for EFC’s primary fundraiser, which has been re-envisioned in some profound ways while remaining completely unchanged in others.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes has evolved into Rise Together for Safety & Justice. The symbolic red shoes have been retired as we have grown to understand how by perpetuating gender stereotypes, they were at best problematic and at worst harmful for our members and allies, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. In addition, like last year’s response to COVID, this year there will be multiple small walks across the county instead of only one big walk in Pittsfield.

What hasn’t changed is the importance of the event. Yes, we rise together to raise much needed funds to provide services to the more than 3,000 people who seek our help every year. But we also rise together to both educate and strengthen our community so that everybody becomes advocates for safety and justice for ourselves and all of our neighbors.

Why Berkshire County must rise together

In the past 6 years, 11 Berkshire County residents have lost their lives in incidents of domestic violence.

Abusers use the threat of deportation to assert control over immigrant victims and almost 59 percent of immigrant women experience intimate partner violence.

Domestic violence survivors are seven times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.

Disabled folks are three times more likely than the general population to experience rape and sexual assault.

Women of color, trans people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community experience domestic and sexual violence at disproportionately high rates.

Currently there are six walks scheduled between Sept. 19 and 29.

Williamstown will rise together on Sunday, Sept. 19, at noon; meet at Tunnel Street Café. Come walk with Williams College and Greylock Together.

North Adams will rise together on Monday, Sept. 20, at 5:30 p.m.; meet at City Hall. Walk with state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. John Barrett, Mayor Tom Bernard, Men Initiating Change in North Adams and City Councilors Ben Lamb and Peter Oleskiewicz.

Expected to be the largest walk, Pittsfield will rise together on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 5:30 p.m.; meet at Persip Park at the intersection of North Street and Columbus Avenue. Walk with state Reps. Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Paul Mark, District Attorney Andrea Harrington, Mayor Linda Tyer and members of the City Council (Peter Marchetti, Earl Persip, Peter White, Patrick Kavey, and Helen Moon), Berkshire Community College, Berkshire Pride, Berkshire Immigrant Center, Youth Alive, Berkshire Pride, the NAACP, Ty Allan Jackson and Police Chief Mike Wynn.

Great Barrington will rise together on Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 5:30 p.m.; meet at Town Hall. Walk with state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, Jane Iredale, Calyx Berkshire Dispensary, Berkshire Food Co-op, Fairview Hospital and the NAACP.

Lee will rise together on Monday, Sept. 27, at 5:30 p.m.; meet at Town Hall. Walk with state Rep. Pignatelli, Chin Lee and Onyx Specialty Papers.

Lenox will rise together on Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 5:30 p.m. Walk with the Lenox Library staff. Location and start time details to be announced.

To register as an individual or as a team or just to make a donation to EFC go to pledgereg.com/risetogether21.

We are more than half-way to this year’s goal of $110,000, but your help and support have never been more important than they are right now.

Please join us as we Rise Together for Safety and Justice.

Dr. Susan Birns is professor emerita at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and a member of the Board of Directors of Elizabeth Freeman Center.