Groups Rally to Save Domestic Violence Services

Groups Rally to Save Domestic Violence Services

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Emberly Cross said that her nightmare is having turn away women seeking help in cases of domestic abuse.

In her nightmares, Cross, the coordinating attorney at San Francisco’s Cooperative Restraining Order Clinic, tells women: “I’m sorry, but this year is not a good year to leave your batterer, so check us out next year, maybe the funding would be reinstated.”

These days, Cross’ nightmares seem close to reality.

Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget includes a 25 percent cut to domestic violence prevention organizations. Advocates say the cuts, which total approximately $650,000, would be devastating.

Even before the cuts, they say, the groups were already under-funded. Maria Chavez, director of the Riley Center, which provides support groups, a crisis hotline, and emergency shelter to battered women, said a cut to funding would mean the Riley Center would have to turn away more women and families than it did last year.

“We turned away 624 families from our emergency shelter and we turned away 771 families from transitional housing” in 2009, Chavez said. “This is not because of funding cuts, but [with a] normal operating” budget.

But restoring the cuts could be a hard sell, because of the city’s overall budget crunch.

“We are looking at a budgetary shortfall of $500 million,” said Bord of Supervisors Budget Analyst Harvey Rose.

It’s not just domestic violence services that are facing the chopping block, said Rose. Many services across the board, including police and public health, are slated for cuts in an effort to close the immense budget shortfall.

At the rally upcoming Tuesday, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said he and his fellow Board members would do what they could to convince the mayor to spare domestic violence services from the chopping block.

“We know how devastating these cuts will be,” he said, adding: “We are all committed to ensuring that these cuts do not happen.”

According to the city’s Department on the Status of Women, last year more than 26,000 women sought help at one of San Francisco’s 17 government-funded domestic violence service agencies.

Although statistics haven’t been tallied for 2010 yet, according to Beverley Upton, director of the nonprofit, Domestic Violence Consortium, the number of visits to domestic violence organizations funded by the Department on the Status of Women has increased in the recession.

Resources for women seeking help have become limited due to the across-the-board budget cuts. Flores attributes the lack of resources to the spike in callers because they are looking for help anywhere they can get it.

“The Board of Supervisors has actually been pretty good at not cutting the domestic violence budget” in past years, said Julie Soo, a member of the Commission on the Status of Women.

This is not the first time domestic violence services have been on the chopping block, she said. Previous cuts, she said, have been restored by the Board of Supervisors.

The Domestic Violence Consortium’s Upton said that the recession has effected how victims of domestic violence take action to help themselves out of a potentially dangerous situation.

“The recession stops all the options because people are afraid to leave their jobs, afraid to go into shelters, afraid to lose their housing,” she said. “It cuts down all the options for survivors, so sometimes they stay in very dangerous situations because they’re afraid of immigration issues.”

In San Francisco, nearly 65 percent of those who seek help with domestic violence issues are women of color, and half of those are mono-lingual or limited English-speaking women.

Upton is very concerned about how the new immigration policies, the recession and the loss of funding for domestic violence programs will effect immigrant women in the long term. “It is just a disaster waiting to happen,” she said.

Although it seems as though the city is saving money now by making these cuts, in the long term the cost is much greater in terms of the human cost, Soo added.

Without these avenues of assistance, “these women can’t get back to work, they can’t take care of their families and really it’s our future generation at stake,” she said.