Shelter House forced to cut back on life-saving services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors in Okaloosa and Walton counties
(FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla.) January 15, 2019 – Shelter House, the state-certified victim services program serving Okaloosa and Walton counties, is already facing negative impacts of the partial government shutdown, which began on December 22, 2018 and seemingly has no end in sight. The provision of life-saving services for domestic violence survivors and their children depends on a combination of private, state and federal funding and the continuation of these critical services has been compromised due to the current government shutdown.
Contracts for Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding, a source that provides nearly 40% of funding for victim services at Shelter House, are reimbursable and the agencies receiving these funds front the money to provide services and are then reimbursed by the Office of the Attorney General. Prior to the shutdown these funds were already slow to be recouped, and Shelter House had not been reimbursed since October for funds expended for victims services.
“What people may not realize is this truly is a matter of life and death – so many of the survivors coming through our doors are in imminent danger and come to us with nothing, “ stated Rosalyn Wik, Executive Director of Shelter House. “If we are forced to keep cutting back on services, victims will have nowhere to go.”
In an effort to keep the center’s most critical services operating, Shelter House responded by operating with minimum staffing patterns, suspending all supply purchases and monetary participant assistance and cutting back on contracted services such as licensed mental health therapy for adult survivors. Survivors reaching out for help may find themselves facing long wait lists for services or have to be redirected out of the county due to a lack of resources during this period of time. If the availability of federal funding is not quickly restored, in a matter of weeks the agency may have to consider program office closures, additional staffing reductions or liquidating assets just to maintain its most critical core services.
Shelter House’s emergency shelter program for domestic violence survivors and their children was at 90% of its normal operating capacity when news came that outstanding federal grant reimbursements would be halted. Since July 1, 2018, the agency has already served 80 adults and 59 children in the emergency shelter, 272 domestic violence and sexual assault survivors at their outreach program offices, responded to 55 sexual assault victims at local area hospitals, and answered 628 hotline calls; therefore on track to serve nearly 2,000 local adult and child survivors in a one year period.
Shelter House is not unique in this predicament as a recent press release by the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence indicates that over half of the state’s 42 certified domestic violence centers will face reduction in their level of services to survivors by month two of the federal shutdown. A recent press release by the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence states many of the state’s 31 certified sexual assault programs are already facing layoffs, cutback, and some may be forced to close their doors. In the wake of Hurricane Michael, Florida will face uncommon fiscal challenges that will diminish the state’s ability to compensate for any loss of federal funding.
In addition to the cash flow crisis the shutdown has caused, the humanitarian impact is substantial. Even once the shutdown ends and funding is restored, it will not erase the violence suffered by those who were unable to receive services in the interim. There were 180 domestic violence homicides in Florida in fiscal year 2017-18. This number is staggering and would be much higher without the vital services provided through domestic violence centers. If centers cannot access the funding they need to continue, they will be unable to provide shelter services, safety planning, legal assistance to obtain injunctions for protection, and other critical lifesaving services. Every person deserves to live free of abuse, but for many the opportunity and ability to escape violence and find security is a matter of life or death.
Shelter House has started a fundraising campaign to keep critical services available to survivors in Okaloosa and Walton counties. Community members and supporters can contribute by visiting this donation link on the Shelter House website https://app.etapestry.com/onlineforms/ShelterHouseInc/governmentshutdownrelief.html or contacting the main program office at 850.243.1201.
About Shelter House: Shelter House, Inc. is the state certified domestic and sexual violence center serving Okaloosa and Walton counties and offering emergency confidential shelter, crisis counseling, a 24-hour hotline, children’s programs, information and referrals, education, professional training, safety planning and prevention services to survivors of domestic violence and their children and sexual violence survivors. Help is available 24/7. If you feel that a family member or intimate partner is endangering your physical or emotional safety or if you know someone experiencing this in their home, call Shelter House’s domestic violence hotline at 1-800-44-ABUSE or 850-863-4777. If you or someone you know has survived a sexual assault, call Shelter House’s sexual assault helpline at 850-226-2027. For more information about Shelter House, please go online to www.shelterhousenwfl.org.