Domestic violence programs need more funds, better services

From July through early September, Sojourn Shelter and Services could only offer emergency shelter beds to 16 women and children fleeing domestic violence — a dramatic decrease from the 32 the local nonprofit provided before the summer’s state budget scare.

Candi Clouse, Sojourn’s prevention and development coordinator, says the organization is now “getting back to our version of normal.”

“We developed quite a waiting list, which we are working through, trying to get victims who had called during those early months into our shelter now,” Clouse says.

Sojourn, which assists 1,600 victims of domestic violence in the five-county area, is one of 55 full-service organizations in the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence. As the group joined together last week to kick-off Domestic Violence Awareness Month, talks focused on how to get more funding and provide better services.

According to ICADV, in just one 24-hour period in 2008, 65 state programs that work with victims of domestic violence answered 1,217 hotline calls, provided emergency shelter for 1,104 women and children and supported 1,722 others through counseling and advocacy efforts.

“We all know someone who has been in, or is in, a domestic violence situation,” executive director Vickie Smith says. “She might not show up with bruises on her face every day, but she may be experiencing physical abuse, psychological abuse or her kids may be terrified.”

Even though programs are already reporting an increase in this year’s requests for service, financial support is scarce. Domestic violence program funding was cut by 10 percent in the state’s fiscal year 2010 budget — even though, Smith says, costs have risen by 18 percent over the last 10 years with no matching funding increases from the state.

This year’s funding cuts forced some programs to close down for a few months, or like Sojourn, to scale back staff and services.

“If we tell someone who’s in danger that there’s a place to go, they call the hotline, but [are told], ‘We have to put you on a waiting list,’” Smith says. “They’re living in their cars, they’re staying with their abuser. Their options are limited.”

So how can Illinois help these women? They’re at a crossroads, Smith says — domestic service providers need to encourage more people to get involved.

“We can call and see if we can be a volunteer on the hotline,” she says. “We can tell our friends and neighbors, ‘We don’t think this is right.’”

Carolyn Brown Hodge, deputy chief of staff for Governor Pat Quinn, attended last week’s ICADV event. She told domestic violence service providers that the state is currently $11 billion in debt.

“The governor is trying to do his best to get these bills paid and provide money for these programs,” Hodge said. “We need a tax increase. You’ve got to go back and tell the legislators — we have to quit being a deadbeat state.”

Smith agrees that the state needs to contribute more. Even though the federal government and community organizations continue to support services — Sojourn recently received part of a $250,000 federal grant for transitional housing and a $15,000 community grant for its financial education program — domestic violence programs in Illinois currently face a $19 million shortfall.

“Obviously, that’s not to all come from the state,” she says, “but the state needs to step up and do its part.”

Contact Amanda Robert at

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