As funding has steadily dwindled to help New Yorkers escape domestic violence situations, the number of deaths from abuse has sharply increased in the past three years.
And now, $2.5 million hangs in the balance. Advocates are worried that, as the city puts together next year's budget, the City Council will not renew funding for groups that help domestic violence victims.
Homicides from domestic violence, classified by the city as "family-related homicides," increased 19 percent in 2011 from 2010. The Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence recorded 92 deaths last year, up from 77 in 2010. And the number of deaths last year is a 48 percent increase from 2009, when the city recorded 62 deaths.
Police also responded to more domestic violence incidents last year -- about 258,000 calls, or approximately 700 a day. That's around 20 more calls per day compared to 2010.
Funding for the city's Domestic Violence Empowerment program, an umbrella program that funds about 50 groups helping domestic violence survivors, has declined in recent years, said Michelle Jackson of the Human Services Counsel.
"The trend in the last four years has been that as funding has been cut, homicides have increased," Jackson said.
In fiscal year 2008, the funding was $4 million, she said. Since then, it's been gradually slashed.
Right now, advocates are struggling to secure $2.5 million for next year before funding expires in June, she said.
What's causing the uptick?
Although it's unclear what caused the uptick in domestic violence murders, some say a recession and economic struggles might create more stress inside families, increasing the need for a safe haven.
Alejandra Soto, director of communications for the Mayor's Office to Combat Domestic Violence, said that their office has also dealt with funding cuts -- and that the increase in deaths may not be a direct correlation.
"We don't know why they went up," she said of the increase in fatalities. "Nobody knows for sure what drives domestic violence."
How is the money spent?
The $2.5 million from the city is funneled to a variety of programs supporting people who leave abusers, such as legal help for restraining orders, therapy and finding housing.
"You have to take a holistic approach," said Michelle Jackson, of the Human Services Counsel. "Legal services to get custody, get support, get away from their abuser, breaking leases -- things that people don't necessarily think of that are vital to severing those ties and starting a new life."
Meanwhile, Nathaniel Fields, senior vice president for Safe Horizon's domestic violence programs, said they are still reeling after the city cancelled its rent-assistance Advantage program in February, which subsidized victims' shelter as they transitioned to a new life.
Victims need a lot of support to escape, he said -- they've often abandoned their only support systems, pulling children out of schools and communities.
"If they can't see a next step, they might not even go into a shelter," he said.
A survivor's story
Alejandrina came to Barrier Free Living in 2009 while trying to escape an abusive significant other.
The group helped her transition from living in a shelter to finding an apartment of her own. They also provided her with counseling and case management, guiding her through getting back on her feet and creating her own life.
"I've been doing things with my life, different things," Alejandrina said. "I've been taking self-defense classes and teaching Spanish, and I continue with my life with the help of my case manager."