Shelter From the Storm

Frederick Wiseman Pulls the Curtain on Domestic Abuse

Carrillo was impressed by The Spring's "holistic approach" to domestic violence as portrayed in the film. No single facility in the five boroughs offers the comprehensive services found at the Tampa shelter. "My hope is that, as a businessman, [Mayor Bloomberg] understands that you can't just pay for a bed and expect mental health care, a nurse on site, job training," Carrillo says. "This population needs so much; it shouldn't just be about a bed and three meals."

She adds, "I've never had someone leave my office and go straight to a bed, like women do in the film. They have to wait weeks; they have to roam from house to house, hopefully without being found. What I've started to do is ask people, Are you willing to go out-side the five boroughs? Talk about really uprooting someone. There's a huge vacancy problem here in New York, whether it's victims of domestic violence, homeless families, the mentally ill, people recently released from prison."

Last fall, however, domestic violence programs in New York noted sharp dips in the number of calls for help they received, a drop largely attributed to September 11. As Kelly Crow reported in The New York Times, women felt safer inside their violent homes than out in a targeted city, and that their crisis was dwarfed by ground zero. Such aftereffects were not limited to New York. "Capacity hasn't been as high as it usually is," says Malawi Hills, supervisor of children's services at The Spring. "We're used to about 80 or 90 clients at a time, and lately it's been between 50 and 60. I would like to attribute that to us doing our jobs in prevention outreach, but I think that the insecurity brought on by the bad economy and September 11 also have to do with it."

"In order to break out of a pattern they've been held in for so long, these women are forced to rethink so many different aspects of their lives."
photo: Robin Holland
"In order to break out of a pattern they've been held in for so long, these women are forced to rethink so many different aspects of their lives."

"With an economic downturn, there's more strain in the house and tempers are more likely to flare," Hower says. "Abuse goes up; people are less inhibited. But I've also noticed that things have been rather slow. Not that I'm complaining, but I'm wondering why, because it's not like domestic violence just disappeared."

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