Sunday, November 11, 2012
When Executive Director Connie Phillips has to tell domestic-abuse victims there’s no room at Sojourner Center’s shelters, she doesn’t know whether they will find a safe place to go. Some could be forced to stay in dangerous situations.
In 1998, Sojourner turned away a woman because there wasn’t space, and her husband stabbed her 25 times, killing her.
“Now, had we had room in the shelter, would she still be dead today? Maybe,” Phillips said. “I don’t know. But I can tell you she wouldn’t have died that day.”
These days, Phillips said, Phoenix-based Sojourner is having to turn away more victims because of cuts in funding administered by the Arizona Department of Economic Security. The cuts forced Sojourner to eliminate a total of 80 beds at two of its three shelters.
In July, the DES began allocating funding for domestic-abuse shelters using a formula that takes into account a county’s population and how many of a shelter’s beds are used. The amount distributed for fiscal 2013, $11.6 million, was roughly the same as the previous year.
The DES had previously awarded most funding on a competitive basis, allowing shelters to add beds to accommodate more victims.
For some shelters, the change meant more money. But for Sojourner, it meant a loss of $474,000, about 10 percent of its total budget.
Last year, Sojourner had to turn away from 10 to 25 percent of the women and children who sought shelter, Phillips said.
Since July, she said, the center has been turning away 43 to 50 percent of those seeking shelter each month, 114 to 142 women and children.
DES documents provided in response to a public-records request showed that 17 shelters gained funding from the previous year under the new method while 15 lost funds. Sojourner Center had the largest cut.
Some of the shelters that lost funding had to reduce bed space and staff, shelter officials and advocates said.
Laura Guild, domestic-violence program manager for the DES, said the new method was intended to avoid duplication of services and to maximize resources.
“We really felt that using a formula and service utilization is a more fiscally responsive manner to distribute the dollars,” Guild said.
Unmet requests for emergency shelter tracked by the DES, which may be inflated because of duplicate requests, have fallen steadily since fiscal 2008, when there were 10,819 unmet requests, until fiscal 2011, when there were 5,817. This year, the numbers are up slightly, reaching 6,528 in fiscal 2012, which ended June30.
Jessye Johnson, deputy director of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the goal behind the formula was to create a more equitable distribution of funding.
“So, the flaw was within the calculations that they used. (It) was in the formula,” Johnson said. “Because what they intended was not what ended up happening.”
Shelters that received money for additional beds in past years, including Sojourner, suffered the deepest cuts under the new formula, Johnson said.
“Although some shelters really benefited from it, I think that ultimately, when you look at it from a holistic point of view, the fact that any shelters were hurt or devastated … hurts the entire system,” she said.
The funding change also expanded the ways centers can use domestic-violence funding, giving centers flexibility to spend the money on residential or non-residential programs.
Although most shelters draw funding from sources including government funding, fundraising and private contributions, DES funding is a large portion of many Arizona shelters’ budgets.