YWCA eliminates Friday office hours

Nonprofit has seen its resources dwindle as demand increases

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter




Email: info@ywcaclarkcounty.org.

Telephone: 360-696-0167.

Crisis hot line: 360-695-0501.

On the web: ywcaclarkcounty.com.

New office hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday, at 3609 Main St., Vancouver. Closed Fridays, except for individual appointments and evening support groups.

Like many nonprofit agencies that subsist on grants and donations, the YWCA Clark County has faced spiking need and dwindling resources during the Great Recession.

During the past year, the YWCA has cut staff hours and left positions unfilled. But some passionate employees found it impossible to stop working — counseling and advocating for domestic violence and sexual assault victims — even after their budgeted hours ran out.

“The staff we employ here is very motivated and very dedicated. We didn’t want to put them in the position of having to say, ‘No, sorry, we can’t help you on a Friday afternoon,’” said director of programs Natalie Wood.

So the YWCA has taken the unhappy step of closing its doors on Fridays. Crisis hotlines and emergency services will be still be available, and regularly scheduled evening support groups will still meet, but the office on upper Main Street in Vancouver will be closed to walk-in visitors and the general public on Fridays.

The change is effective as of next week.

A statement released by the YWCA this week says this step was necessary “to help keep staff from working more than their allotted hours.”

“We had to make this structural change and reduce advocacy hours,” Wood said. “We wanted to support our staff in having healthy boundaries. We felt it was our responsibility to create that structure,” rather than making employees face the dilemma of turning down people in crisis, or continuing to work — on or off the clock.

According to its most recent financial statement, the YWCA finished fiscal 2010 nearly $560,000 in the red. Its operating expenses were just over $3.5 million, and its income was just under $3 million.

Six staff positions were eliminated or left unfilled over the past year, and 36 positions were reduced to part-time — leaving just half the YWCA’s staff working full time, Wood said. That staff works at several locations, including the Main Street office, the county courthouse, domestic violence shelters and elsewhere. The YWCA also puts some 700 volunteers to regular use, Wood said.

Meanwhile, the need for services provided by the YWCA has never been greater. In 2008, Wood said, the YWCA had approximately 30,000 contacts with people seeking help; in 2010, she said, that number had jumped to 70,000.

“It’s not uncommon for social services to see that kind of spike in need at a time of economic downturn,” she said, adding that government grants have dropped off a little — from 65 percent of the agency budget in 2009 to 58 percent in 2010 — but private donations and gifts have risen slightly.

“It’s not enough to cover the loss” of government grants, she said.

The YWCA’s stated mission is empowering women and fighting racism; it operates a 31-bed domestic violence shelter and a crisis hotline, provides medical and legal help for sexual assault victims, counsels foster children and advocates for them in the court system, operates its own preschool, and offers many workshops and outreach programs on racism, sexual violence and more.