Funding for shelters down as need increases

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(Host)   With bankruptcies, evictions and unemployment on the rise, stress levels in many families have mushroomed.   That’s led to an increase in domestic violence.   

But as VPR’s Nina Keck reports, even as demand for services is growing, funding for women’s shelters is down.

(Keck)  Miche Chamberlain, Director of the Rutland County Women’s Shelter, enters a pass code and opens the door to the organization’s safe house. 

(Chamberlain) "So this is our night staff office here – so for the people who stay in the four bedrooms."

(Keck)    The house is clean, cheerful and well maintained with four bedrooms and two apartments.    Besides providing victims of domestic violence with a safe place to live, Chamberlain’s staff of seven provides legal help, counseling, child and family advocacy as well as round the clock assistance.  There’s also a small food pantry and thrift store. 

(Chamberlain) "We are able to provide a little bit of food services if people are not able to get through the week.  So this is kind of a supplement to the community food cupboard."

 (phone rings) "Rutland County Women’s Shelter this is Sharon, how can I help you?"

(Keck)   Chamberlain says with the economic downturn such services are even more desperately needed. But she says with private donations down by two-thirds, cuts are inevitable.

(Chamberlain) "Over the years the shelter has been built up to be able to accommodate very different needs.  And so to have to pick and choose what is most immediate is very stressful."

(Keck)   Jan Christiansen directs the Burlington-based Women Helping Battered Women organization.    She says they, too, are facing tough decisions.  

(Christiansen) "We’ve already seen in our current fiscal year we lost two huge federal grants.  And that was 20 percent of our budget.  And that’s huge.   And we’re anticipating – and this is worst case scenario – we’re anticipating another 20 percent next fiscal year.    That’s 40 percent of our budget.  We’re just spread really thin."

(Keck)  Christiansen says their hotline answered over 3,000 calls last year and she expects even more in 2009.    But with less funding, she’s not sure how they’ll provide all the necessary follow up services.   And Vermont is not alone.   The federally funded National Domestic Violence Hotline says their call volume jumped 43 percent in March compared to a year ago.   Spokeswoman Rethe Fielding.

(Fielding) "Fundraising from private sources is down about 40 percent, so it is increasingly challenging whether you’re a national hotline or a local hotline to meet the need. And we know that there are people out there who need help and who haven’t called yet."

(Keck)  Asking existing staff to do more only works so long.  There comes a point, Miche Chamberlain and Jan Christiansen say, where you simply can’t cut anymore.   

For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.  

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