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The Women's Center

The Women’s Center in Carbondale provides a variety of services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault throughout eight Southern Illinois counties. In Carbondale, the nonprofit organization runs a domestic violence emergency shelter that houses up to 40 women and their children. 

CARBONDALE — The executive director of The Women’s Center warns that without state funding in the next three months, the agency that provides services to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault across eight Southern Illinois counties may be forced to shut its doors.

“If we don’t see a budget for FY17 we will be closing,” Cathy McClanahan said Monday. “We see no other option.” The fiscal year 2017 budget ends June 30, and McClanahan said that because the nonprofit agency has not received any state funding since December, it will soon burn through most of its savings and local donations to make payroll and pay overhead costs.

McClanahan said that funding for domestic violence shelters was left out of the fiscal year 2017 partial year budget that the General Assembly passed on June 30. 

Therefore, The Women’s Center has not received any state money for its domestic violence shelter since July 1, though it received some federal grant dollars through December. In a typical year, the center receives $494,000 annually through its contract with the Department of Human Services, she said. McClanahan said she is holding out hope that was an oversight legislators will correct.

The state money the agency received between July and December was for its rape crisis center, as sexual assault services were funded in the latest stopgap budget deal. For the current fiscal year, the organization has received $55,000 for the services it provides to sexual assault victims, compared to previous recent years in which it received about $194,000, she said.

Though funded in fiscal year 2017, rape crisis services were not funded in fiscal year 2016, so much of the roughly $5.8 million allocated on June 30 was used to pay back bills from the previous years, said Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which subcontracts with Illinois agencies that provide services to sexual assault victims and their families on behalf of the state.

The state funding crisis has left social service agencies scrambling to find ways to continue services to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, she said.

Poskin said that statewide, about 32 employees were laid off in the previous fiscal year because of the state budget impasse. “The hideous thing that happens is … the biggest factor in recovering from sexual assault is that the support you’re receiving is consistent, predictable and stable,” she said. “It might be the only consistent, predictable and stable thing in a person’s life. When a staff person leaves … the survivor has to start over. It’s a huge setback in that individual’s life.”

Statewide, rape crisis centers, including The Women’s Center, served just more than 18,000 people last fiscal year, counting crisis calls and in-person counseling. About 9,000 survivors were seen in person, and about 38 percent of those individuals were age 17 or younger, Poskin said.

The Women’s Center provided services to 1,100 domestic violence survivors and 205 sexual assault survivors in fiscal year 2016, McClanahan said. Roughly a third of the sexual assault victims who received services at The Women’s Center that year were children or adolescents, and the largest percentage were young adults between the ages of 17 and 29, McClanahan said. The youngest client staff saw that year was 9 months old, and the oldest over age 65, she said.

On Saturday, at a town hall meeting hosted by state Sens. Paul Schimpf and Dale Fowler, McClanahan pleaded with them to sign on to an appropriations bill in the Senate that would provide funds for domestic violence shelters, given that they did not receive a fiscal year 2017 allocation.

“We can’t survive without this,” she told the senators, whose meeting focused on the spring legislative session. The Women’s Center’s domestic violence shelter in Carbondale houses up to 40 women and their children, she noted. The organization serves the following eight counties: Johnson, Saline, Gallatin, Franklin, Williamson, Perry, Union and Jackson. The only other emergency shelters for domestic violence victims in the region are located in Cairo and Olney. A shelter in Centralia closed in February, she said.

Schimpf and Fowler were seated in January, and both said they were unaware that domestic violence programs did not receive stopgap funding for fiscal year 2017, and agreed to research the matter further. “We’ve been there 11 weeks now,” said Fowler, R-Harrisburg, of the freshman senators’ tenures in Springfield. “This is important information we need, and thank you for bringing that to the table …”

Schimpf, R-Waterloo, told her he was “really disappointed” to hear domestic violence shelters were not part of the June 30 stopgap appropriation. “That’s something that, if that had been on my watch, I would have been very disappointed in myself.”

In February, The Associated Press reported that, according to interviews and documents the news agency reviewed, Illinois officials waited more than five months to let domestic violence program directors know that their funding had been excluded. The Associated Press reported at the time that no one knows — or would say — why about $9 million in funding for domestic violence shelters and programs was not included in the stopgap budget that took effect July 1.

The Associated Press article referenced a letter that Human Services Secretary James Dimas sent to providers in late 2016 acknowledging there was “some confusion” about funding in the stopgap funding measure; he said it would be fully paid when available. That has yet to happen.

McClanahan requested that Schimpf and Fowler sign on to the funding measure, Senate Bill 1695, to help address the financial emergency facing domestic violence shelters. The bill would allocate $9 million to shelters statewide, and allow The Women’s Center to remain operational, McClanahan said.

“We need a budget, but in the interim, this would help us tremendously,” she said.

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molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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