Sandra Ramos: Strengthening Our Sisters
In 1972, Sandra Ramos opened the first domestic violence shelter in North America, after a woman showed up on her doorstep with her children in tow. Ramos embraced the opportunity to help keep her safe from an abusive husband and thus began a journey that would shed light on the plight of battered women. Since then, she has been stalwart in the battle against domestic violence. In 1998, Ramos developed a course called “Dynamics of Domestic Violence,” which she teaches at both William Paterson University and Ramapo College. The course allows her to educate others on the cyclical nature of abuse. She goes above and beyond to fight for “the radical notion that women are people.”
Today, Sandra Ramos continues to keep Strengthen Our Sisters (SOS) Domestic Violence Shelter open as a part of her life’s mission to help women and children. According to Ramos, she’s certain many of the residents of the shelter would be out on the street or back with their batterers if not for SOS. Unfortunately, due to government cutbacks, the organization’s funding has dropped to less than 10% of what it was previously operating on. The computer school has lost its grant money, and both the shelter-liscensed day care centers and thrift store are operating on a volunteer staff.
Additionally, Ramos said SOS is paying the price for opening its doors to those not qualified for emergency housing funds. She explains, “We are suffering financially because the majority of the people that come to us are those that have been deemed ineligible for payment from social services. Most other shelters refused to serve them, so we are faced with the moral dilemma of leaving them languishing or opening our heart and our doors. Many of the people are mothers with children who would lose custody to the DCF (Department of Children and Families) because they have nowhere to live.”
SOS has boldly allowed women to stay longer than their allotted time when they have nowhere else to go. Ramos explains, “They only want us to keep people for three months, and most people can’t get help in three months.” According to Ramos, SOS is one of only two shelters referred by the 211 Hotline, and the only shelter that answers referrals 24 hours a day. It is also the only battered women’s shelter in the state to take people without welfare vouchers.
Currently, Ramos and her volunteers are working hard to pay off their mortgage or, at the very least, avoid foreclosure. When asked what motivates her to push forward in spite of these hurdles, Ramos says that seeing a woman who is torn and battered transform into someone strong and self-sufficient is what continues to inspire her. The strength, passion and dedication of Sandra Ramos makes Strength Our Sisters remarkable.