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Crisis Centers anticipate less fed funding, but commit to supporting domestic violence survivors

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Give DeKalb County was a great success for Safe Passage. The local crisis center for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault raised over $70,000 dollars in the annual community-wide fundraising event.

Even so, the organization faces a big hole in their upcoming fiscal year. They expect to receive 50 percent less in federal dollars from the Victims of Crime Acts Fund, also called VOCA funding.

“It's a problem for a lot of places,” said Mary Ellen Schaid, the executive director of Safe Passage.

“We are losing about $500,000 out of our budget, which is pretty significant. We have about a $3 million budget.”

In Rockford, Remedies Renewing Lives, the local crisis center serving Winnebago and Boone Counties, said in a statement they too anticipate VOCA funding cuts:

“The reality is we don’t yet know the impact this will have on our organization. These are the times we will need to rely on our community more than ever to support us as we serve those in crisis.”

Back in DeKalb, Schaid said they laid off one of their directors, a higher salary employee who didn’t provide direct work. They're also considering raising the cost of the employee health insurance, and no raises.

“When you have to forego a raise, or your healthcare costs go up a little bit, (for) a lot of people that doesn't work very well,” she said, “and so we're hoping not to lose staff because of having to make these cuts.”

Schaid said they’re committed to keeping staff that provide direct services. And right now, she’s worried about how talks of budget cuts may affect employees where burnout and turnover are always a concern.

“Even in normal times, staff can be deeply affected by hearing people talk about trauma all day long,” Schaid said. “They're at risk for having, like, vicarious trauma or are getting burnt out.”

The organization supports staff by offering generous amounts of time off. They also provide a therapist through a consultant for employees.

Vicki Smith president of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said most recently crisis centers were better positioned to provide salary raises and benefit to staff not always common the field.

But that may change under different circumstances.

“In the long run that is potentially accurate that the budgets will have to be adjusted,” Smith said, “and that maybe -- I hope this isn't true, but it's possible -- that some organizations will not be able to continue to meet the benefits that they had hoped to provide to their staff.”

The nonprofit funnels state and federal funding to crisis centers servicing survivors of domestic violence throughout Illinois.

Smith said looming budget cuts may also affect survivors who may question whether services would be available. But she said organizations will make the adjustment so that care is always there.

“So, cuts are always bad,” she said, “but for domestic violence services it could have been a lot worse, because we did just receive a pretty good significant increase.”

Smith was referring to state funding. She said they expect to receive the same level of state funding for the next fiscal year.

Smith said it could take some time to receive the level of funding once received by VOCA dollars. This stream of money is generated through fees paid for in white-collar crime prosecution. During the Trump Presidency, funding was doled out to states in large chunks and emptied out. The funding pool was not replenished as fewer white-collar crimes were being prosecuted.

“In terms of the amount of money compared to other sources, it's not the biggest pot they get,” Smith said, “but it is important.”

Providing essential services

Schaid said despite potential financial strain, at Safe Passage, they are committed to provide services. The need for care has only grown.

She said on average for about 15 survivors a month, the organization works to find alternative housing because they don’t have room in the emergency shelter.

“We don't just say sorry -- we try to help them develop some [kind of] a safety plan,” Schaid said. “But it's, it's less than ideal, which is why we need a new shelter.”

The organization has for several years been fundraising for a new shelter.

She said counseling services are in high demand and they haven’t been able to hire more counselors because of the difficult job market.

“The counseling is becoming problematic,” she said, “because we're having to carry a pretty large waiting list, which we really never have had to do before.”

The organizations also respond to tragedies affecting the whole community. Earlier this month a teenager was murdered, in what Schaid would call an instance of domestic violence, dating violence and sexual assault.

“It's very tragic,” she said, “and I know that a lot of people in the community are hurting, and a lot of parents are worried.”

She said it’s possible they’ll be visiting the local high school and library to host support groups.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, you can get help by calling the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

The National Sexual Assault hotline is 800-656-4673.

The Crisis Hotline is 988 and is available for anyone who wants emotional support or who has a friend or loved one in crisis.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.