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Freeman Center Addresses Link Between Homelessness, Domestic Violence

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Freeman Center has seen a more than 80 percent increase in the need for emergency shelters since the pandemic hit last year. 
 
Executive Director Janis Broderick spoke to the Human Services Advisory Council last week about the link between domestic violence and homelessness along with an increased need for the organization's services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
"Domestic violence is the cause of homelessness in the great majority of families and female-identified persons in shelters or violence survivors," she said on Thursday.
 
"Studies show that 74 percent of domestic violence survivors stay with their abuser longer or return to an abusive situation because they cannot shelter and feed their children. I would estimate that at least 95 percent of those who come to us are having housing issues. Many are fleeing danger, others are struggling with the activeness of violent relationships, so addressing homelessness poverty and housing stability is critical to stop the cycle of violence."
 
Broderick said that when the pandemic reached Massachusetts last March, the center's 24-hour hotlines were "eerily quiet" followed by an influx of calls in late April. These calls were showing more desperation and extremer violence, she explained, because it seemed like victims were waiting to seek help until they couldn't stand the abuse any longer.
 
"We are seeing decreased access to legal resources, we are seeing a huge financial need, we are seeing people make impossible choices between safety and housing and enduring violent assault, and abuse in order to stay housed or meet basic needs," she reported.
 
From May 2020 through January 2021, the center received 471 hotline calls, which was a 26 percent increase, and from April through January provided alternative emergency shelters and motel rooms for 212 nights because traditional shelters were full.
 
This was 81 percent more than the same period the year before.
 
Broderick explained city funding helps support the Homelessness Response Program that includes securing emergency shelter for victims fleeing imminent danger, community-based services to help victims obtain or maintain housing through safety services, advocacy counseling, and emergency financial and housing stabilization assistance. In terms of funding, she said the organization was "disappointed" because it applied for a lot more than it received in this time of increased need.
 
"There are times when if we had more of this kind of assistance we could really help people stay in their homes and move forward," she said. "As it is, we throw all the money into paying clients' rents and some emergency needs."
 
The Freeman Center has three transitional housing units that serve five families in need of shelter, keeping the family unit together.
 
The center has followup services to support a successful transition from shelter to new homes and financial independence initiatives to address poverty and secure long-term economic and housing stability.
 
When the pandemic hit, the center's hotline stayed open and on-site to respond to emergencies, assist with walk-ins, and help with victim protection and online access to court hearings and resources.  
 
The civilian advocate continued working closely with the Police Department and court advocates attended hearings whenever they were permitted. Advocates also work with domestic abuse survivors in Francis Avenue office and provide transportation when necessary.
 
Chairwoman Rosalind Kopfstein asked Broderick how she and her staff avoid work and compassion fatigue, saying they are a "wonderful staff and do an outstanding job" and she "can't imagine the stress they are under right now."
 
Because a number of the center's staff are survivors, Broderick said they get by with "sheer determination," and self-care is often discussed in the workplace.
 
"During COVID it's been incredibly hard because our work is not meant to be done remotely," she concluded.

Tags: domestic violence,   elizabeth freeman center,   homeless,   human services,   

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Berkshire Athenaeum celebrates Earth Day With Computer Recycling Collection

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In observance of Earth Day on Thursday, April 22, the Berkshire Athenaeum will host a computer recycling collection starting Tuesday, April 20, through Friday, April 30.
 
The event, that is in collaboration with Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires and Southern Vermont, is part of the Dell-Reconnect residential recycling program, an initiative that works in partnership with the Goodwill. 
 
Accepted items include monitors, scanners, computer mice, printers, keyboards, laptop batteries, ink and toner cartridges, computers, hard drives, speakers, cords, and cables; television sets will not be accepted.
 
"Clearing your home of outdated technology and disposing of these items responsibly is a great way to celebrate Earth Day. This collection has become something of an annual tradition for the athenaeum and we're excited to partner with Goodwill to offer it again this year," said Technical
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