State may trim 75% from domestic violence program

YWCA Clark County braces itself for significant cuts

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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About two weeks ago, the YWCA Clark County got a sky-is-falling memo from one of its primary funding partners — the State of Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services.

Get ready for serious cuts to your grant-funded domestic violence program, the memo said. You should come up with a plan to reduce the program’s costs by 25 percent on January 1, 2012, and an additional 50 percent on July 1.

That message went out to all state-funded domestic violence programs. The YWCA Clark County’s SafeChoice program includes domestic violence shelters, counselors, educators and other staff — a total of 22 people in all, according to SafeChoice director Debra Adams. The total amount at risk in Clark County approaches $250,000, Adams said.

Adams said she is looking at layoffs of the best possible people at the worst possible time. Economic stress and unemployment lead to family stress, she said, and that’s when a community needs services like violence prevention, intervention and shelters the most. The Y is the only local agency dedicated to this kind of work, she said.

Y employees “are committed, they are passionate, they are really dedicated to what they do,” said Adams. “This is going to be devastating to the community because it’s going to affect the number of people we can serve.”

It’s also coming on the heels of the Y’s summer decision to close one day per week in order to cut costs and save on staff time. The dedication of Y employees was such that employees were regularly logging more hours than they were scheduled to work, program director Natalie Wood said. The Y’s doors are now closed Fridays, although some programs are still operating that day.

Now, the Y has received word from the state DSHS that it’s proposing to cut a total of $4.7 million from the state’s annual $6.1 million domestic violence shelter program, plus $83,000 from the domestic violence prevention program (aimed at underserved communities). That’s in advance of a special legislative session Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for Nov. 28 — when a biennial state budget shortfall of $1.4 billion must be closed.

“The battered women’s movement is about 40 years old,” Adams said. “We have been building it all this time, and we’ve developed some specialized services that we hate to see slip away now.” Those specialized services include things like language translators, outreach and counseling for sexual minorities, and sex-abuse prevention and education programs for children.

Y executive director Sherri Bennett said huge numbers of sexually abused boys become abusers as they grow up, and girls continue to be victims — so the loss of education and prevention dollars would be tragic, she said.

No numbers are final yet, but Bennett said the state has assured domestic violence shelter providers that big cuts are definitely coming.

“This is the most significant round of cuts we’ve ever faced,” Bennett said. Add the fact that important partner services are also on the chopping block — public transit, mental health help, welfare payments, law enforcement dedicated to domestic violence intervention — and the picture starts to look desperate, indeed, Bennett said.

She said the Y and other local state-funded service providers will attend a Town Hall-style meeting convened by DSHS secretary Susan Dreyfuss from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site artillery barracks, 600 Hatheway Road.

According to its most recent annual report, just over $2 million of the Y’s 2010 income of $3 million came from government grants. The SafeChoice program represents 36 percent of its expenses, sheltering 10 to 15 people at any given time — and it’s always full, Adams said. The Y logged 53,418 individual contacts with people affected by domestic violence in 2010.

Adams added that even while state funding is being cut, state law requires publicly funded domestic violence shelters to offer certain basic services, including a 24-hour hotline and 24-hour staff coverage — so those program pieces must be preserved despite shrinking budgets.

She said she’s been consulting with sister agencies in other counties, and all the conversations begin similarly: “How are you going to keep your hotline going?”

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; http://www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.