October 1st marks the beginning of Domestic Violence Awareness month, and it was three years ago that Strengthen Our Sisters (SOS) first filed suit for Justice. As you may Know, SOS has been penalized over the years for allowing battered and homeless women to remain at the shelter for more than 60 or 90 days. The reason that SOS does this is because for those women who are fleeing domestic violence and/or working to build a new life, a longer stay is many times necessary; in addition, there is a lack of housing and programs available to them. To quote J.A. – “It took me a long time to get the courage to leave my husband, who was a lawyer. If SOS had not come to pick me up and take me to a safe shelter, I might still be there, suffering by being humiliated and abused and having my children follow the same pattern. I had to fight a legal battle with my husband and won custody of my children. It was very difficult. I went to nursing school, stayed up all night studying, then brought my children to the SOS day care center and slept on the van as they drove me to school. Without this support and being able to stay for over two years, my children and I would not be where we are today. Me with a full time job and a lovely little cottage in a beautiful area and my children doing well. “
M.L. said “If SOS had put me out, as they were told to do, because my husband had found the shelter, I wouldn’t be where I am today, with a Masters, teaching and being able to safely play and mentor my grandchildren”.
Catherine Grisbacher, a social worker who worked with SOS for many years, and now volunteers for us, said “Children suffer from the onset of domestic violence and when they leave and go to a shelter, most of them have serious emotional issues. The schools in West Milford and Wanaque have been wonderful; however, if SOS were to obey the 90 day stay, the children would have to be removed and disrupted from their school and then retested before they can enter another school.
The Lawsuit is being filed by Vincent Gentile of Drinkle, Biddle & Reath, a very prestigious law firm in Princeton. After many cancellations and postponements and the county’s refusal at mediation, the court date has finally been rescheduled. Ramos is hoping that we will have a victory by her 77th birthday, which is 10/4. In previous years, she was honored by the City of Hackensack on her birthday and Teaneck made her 40th, Domestic Violence Awareness day and at her 75th party she was presented with a citation from the Senate. Despite this and because of SOS’s stance to serve the needs of its clients, it is now operating with no paid staff and very little income. They are basically the only shelter that accepts people without welfare vouchers. Many of the people have exhausted their vouchers with other shelters and then turn to us; and if it means forcing them to live under the bridge or go back to their batterers or lose their children from DCP&P. SOS takes them in and does its best to serve their needs under very difficult circumstances.
The issue of the length of stay is not only at SOS, but thru out the state. We continually get calls from other shelters that want to place people with us because their voucher time has expired and the shelters are therefore forcing people to homelessness. Ramos says “the answer is transitional housing/shelter. The person who has the answer is Chuck Richmond who was in charge of transitional housing and later the commissioner. This needs to be looked into because people leave their dangerous situation and after several months, find themselves in more dire conditions”. We are calling upon the Governor and the present commissioner, Lieutenant Governor Shelia Oliver to examine this. For details and documentation on our proposed shelter/transitional status, call Sandra Ramos at 973/831-0898.
We expect a packed courthouse with people who have been the recipients of SOS’s services and know that it is miracle that we are still operating with seven residences, two licensed day care centers, a thrift store and food pantry.
As Mr. Gentile remarked: “Especially in times like these, we are very lucky to have Sandra’s unrelenting commitment to help homeless and battered women.” And Senator Gerald Cardinalli said “we were extremely fiscally frugal”.
The case will be heard on October 1st at 9AM at 401 Grand Ave., Paterson; and a press conference will be held at 8:30 in front of the courthouse.