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With no Illinois budget pending, services for domestic violence diminish

A silent witness display created by the Violence Prevention Center, to represent victims murdered in counties they serve. The shields on the chests tell who the victim was and their story, provided by family members.
provided by the Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois

Domestic violence shelters in Illinois have spent the past months dipping into savings and cutting back staff. At least one has closed its doors to women and children. With the legislature unlikely to pass a budget anytime soon, service providers are looking to an uncertain future.  

“We’re running on a very skeleton crew,” said Debbie Sander, the executive director of Phoenix Crisis Center in Granite City. “We’ve not replaced staff members, due to the uncertainty of the finances.”

In 2014, the state of Illinois allocated $18.6 million of its general revenue to shelters for victims of domestic violence. Because the legislature has not passed a budget this year, that money has been tied up and unavailable to shelters since July. Federal funds have been able to pass through, but those usually make up a smaller portion of a shelter’s funding.

Vicki Smith, who leads the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said most of the state’s shelters have budgets where 40 to 60 percent comes from a combination of state and federal funds, and the rest is privately raised. 

“In areas of the state like the southern third of the state, there’s a lot less resources — less corporations, few foundations — so they have a tendency to get more of their support from government resources,” Smith said.

Smith said she's concerned for the state's agencies, but also for the men, women and children feeling domestic abuse. 

"I'm afraid that they won't get what they want when they call, and I'm also afraid that they won't call because they hear about these issues. We still want them to call and ask for help, and we do the best we can with it," Smith said. 

One 35-bed shelter in Belleville has depended on a line of credit to get them through the past months. In addition, the victims they serve have had to stay for longer periods of time to get back on their feet, because other Illinois social services have also been cut back, said Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois director Darlene Jones. 

Transportation assistance, low-cost childcare, and medical appointments for people without insurance are all harder to come by. A slower turnover rate means they can help fewer victims, Jones said. 

“We’ve been one of the luckier ones,” Jones said. Despite the crunch, her organization has not had to reduce services or scale back staff.

In southeastern Illinois, Stopping Woman Abuse Now, Inc. closed its shelter in Olney for people fleeing domestic abuse, and another for people who are homeless. In September, the only domestic violence shelter in Winnebago and Boone Counties had to turn women and children away because they couldn't afford to keep staffers on duty for all their available beds.  In northeastern Illinois, A Safe Place scaled back in the same way.

At Phoenix Crisis Center, director Sander said state money makes up between 14 and 18 percent of the organization’s total revenue. 

“We’re still able to shelter. It’s some of the ancillary services … transportation assistance or some of the educational opportunities that we’ve had to reduce due to the funding,” Sander said. 

The average length of stay for women and children at Phoenix is two weeks. Up to 19 women and children can stay there on any given night. In the meantime, Sanders said, her shelter has received an outpouring of support and donations from the community, which helps. It’s the long term outlook, of passing future budgets under Governor Rauner that worries her, she said.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB.

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) 

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