D.C. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large) has secured the support of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to dramatically increase the number of shelter beds for domestic violence victims in the city.
The administration has agreed to transfer $4.5 million from a federally funded crime victims' fund to pay for more emergency and transitional shelter beds in the District. Now, two nonprofit organizations provide those services with only a small grant from the city government.
"This shows a willingness for the city to work on this more. It's a responsible thing," said Christel Nichols, executive director of the House of Ruth, a shelter that has about 75 beds serving up to 24 families.
Nadine Hathaway, a spokeswoman for My Sister's Place, another shelter, said there are an estimated 500 to 700 women victims of domestic violence each year who would benefit from having access to emergency shelter.
"We have 42 beds and they are always full," Hathaway said.
The Williams administration has agreed to put out a request for proposals to provide $3.5 million for new beds. An additional $1 million will be used to fund a program proposed by Brown that would provide immediate help for the nonprofit shelter providers, said Edward D. Reiskin, deputy mayor for public safety and justice.
Reiskin said the additional money, from the current fiscal year, is in addition to other support that the city government provides. The money will come out of the city's crime victims' fund, which has $19 million in its account.
"There's no question that there is currently not enough" funding for shelter beds, Reiskin said. But the mayor, he stressed, is committed to finding more resources and additional ways to reduce domestic violence.
For Brown, a freshman council member, the issue is personal. He grew up in a family with domestic violence problems.
Domestic violence, he said, is behind a large percentage of 911 calls to police and was the reason for the first homicide of the year. While it is a big issue in the city, he said, it is largely an unspoken one.
"Nobody wants to talk about it, but it's out there," Brown said.
Brown's office said D.C. Superior Court accounted for 5,500 reported incidents of domestic violence in 2000, the most recent figure available this week.
Domestic violence crosses all racial, cultural and economic lines, but battered spouses who are poor have fewer alternatives.
"If you are trying to leave a situation, your options in affordable housing are limited in the city," Nichols, of the House of Ruth, said. "Many people cannot afford to get out."
The shelters, Nichols said, are where abuse victims can "work on things and get themselves in better shape to move into a place on their own. Having a place that is safe and nurturing and has a lot of services will help people to work through the psychological battles of domestic violence."
Brown's legislation would earmark fees collected from marriage license filings and domestic partnership certificate filings to fund additional beds. That would provide only $250,000 a year. But it's a start, Brown said.
"The important thing is to get the money out onto the streets. Right now it is just sitting there in an account,'' Brown said, referring to the $19 million victims' services account.
He said he expects the council to hold a hearing soon on his proposal.