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Local

Funds, time running out for domestic violence agencies

YWCA director: 'We'd have to be looking at cutting programs'

STERLING – Centers that support and protect domestic violence survivors recently got jarring news: There's no funding for them in the stopgap budget.

YWCA of the Sauk Valley, Riverview Center in Carroll County, and other organizations learned last week that the Illinois Department of Human Services has not obligated general revenue funding for fiscal year 2017.

The stopgap budget expires Dec. 31. The YWCA, which provides shelter for women and children, counseling, and advocacy at courts, has a $379,000 contract made up of a blend of federal and general revenue dollars.

"We don't know what percentage of that is general revenue funds," said Jim Walters, executive director of the YWCA.

The funding crunch is also affecting sexual assault services at the YWCA. Walters said the stopgap budget – signed June 30 by Gov. Bruce Rauner – designated $170,000 for such services, but that was reduced to $49,000.

Scary stuff for an agency that's been a "skeleton crew," in Walters' words, since 2004.

"We're so skeletal now that we'd have to be looking at [cutting] programs," Walters said. "We are not filling some positions. We are fortunate that we do have some reserve funds, but it's only a short-term solution."

He hopes to fill the director of crisis services position, after Sara Hoffman left earlier this week.

"I've got a couple people helping me, some people are picking up some extra positions, but the majority of it has fallen to my position," Walters said. "At the moment, we are still providing all the services we had in the past. Our governing board and leadership here are looking hard at what we have to do if those funds are non-realized."

YWCA staff are awaiting any word from state officials on the funding situation.

"If we have a sense or any indicators – say, our elected officials call us and say this will be resolved in February, we could budget for that," Walters said. "Really, what we've been hearing from these people is that it just isn't going to happen."

The scenario is eerily similar to another that played out in January, when the budget impasse forced Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, the state's largest provider of social services, to close more than 30 programs serving 4,700 people statewide, and lay off 750 employees. Local LSSI student and family counseling services, protective care for the elderly, and an emergency program for kids going into foster care were shut down permanently Jan. 22, and the staff who ran them were let go.

"It's the scenario our friends at LSSI went through," Walters said. "We care about victims no matter where you live. We're watching people reduce hours, take substantial pay cuts, furloughs."

The need for domestic violence services is not going away, either. The YWCA reports data every day to the state, and staff are finding that numbers are consistent year after year.

"That demonstrates the need, because most of those cases, more than 80 percent of those, are brand-new cases," Walters said. "Having done this in other communities, our statistical trends in the Sauk Valley are very similar to national trends. The demand is constant."

During fiscal year 2016, the YWCA received an average of 5 phone calls per day on their domestic violence hot line.

Carrie Melton, executive director at Riverview Center's Carroll County office in Mount Carroll said it isn't just financial assistance from IDHS that's lacking.

"We're being basically asked to contact our legislators, and also the governor's office," she said.

In fiscal year 2016, Riverview had 52 active orders of protection, with 38 new orders and 17 upgraded.

While Riverview was fully staffed earlier this year, the agency already was facing budget issues due to the stopgap. Melton said the center gets about $300,000 in state general funds, but the state decided to start giving 12 months of funding for 18 months of services.

"It was a 30 to 40 percent cut in our offices," Melton said. "We've had to utilize some reserve funds, and some generous donors have helped us. Part of our fundraisers have had to continue. I am cautiously optimistic."

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE STATISTICS FOR FISCAL YEAR 2016

YWCA of the Sauk Valley, which serves Whiteside and Lee counties, assisted 751 victims: 502 adults and 249 children; 596 were female, 152 were male, and three were undocumented.

Riverview Center in Carroll County served 102 clients: 92 adults, with 88 women, three men, and one of unidentified gender; 10 children were served, nine girls and one boy.

Hope Center of Ogle County in Rochelle served 531 adults and children. Of those, 117 were emergency shelter clients, and 414 were walk-ins.

From July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, 49 people were slain in 36 seperate domestic violence homicides, according to the Illinois Coalition against Domestic Violence. In the Sauk Valley, there was one death, that of Suzanne Hake in Lanark. There were no domestic violence homicides in Lee, Ogle, or Whiteside counties.

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