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Abuse shelters struggling to adjust to major funding cuts

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 5:11 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A new funding cycle just started on October 1 for federal grants. And with it came the news of major cuts for shelters serving abuse victims in Mississippi.

VOCA stands for Victims of Crime Act and it’s a federal grant program that sends money to direct assistance programs for victims and survivors of all types of crimes.

“We have 330 shelter beds for 82 counties,” explained Wendy Mahoney, Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director. “330 beds is not a lot of beds. And so when we got cut by 40 to 60%, that can mean 40 to 60% of reduction in bed, that individuals won’t have access to.”

We spoke with three shelters, all have had to cut staff in the last month because of the funding cuts that took effect October 1. Care Lodge in Meridian is one of them.

“This VOCA grant that was cut was our largest funding source,” said Abby Miller, Care Lodge Executive Director. “And because it was cut, we lost seven positions, employees, so seven staff members, and those were crucial positions. So we have to cut down to the very basic.”

The Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence says cutting staff also means increased case loads for the ones still there. And a reality they didn’t want to have to face.

“Our motto for the longest time was we’ve never turned anybody away from any of our shelters,” described Stacey Riley, Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence CEO. “But capacity wise, right now, we have to because we have, we have reduced the number of support staff in our shelters. So we can’t, we can’t say that. So, we are at risk of telling a victim that we have no space for them in our shelter.”

Most programs only know the immediate impacts but are bracing for the longer term effects.

“We’re always working to break the cycle, we’re working to break the cycle of abuse,” explained Haven House Director Georgia Grodowitz. “And it’s so important that we keep going, that we keep thinking of new ways to do that. New ways to educate prevention. Those kind of things are going to be the things that get left behind.”

Wendy Mahoney is hopeful state lawmakers will find a way to direct emergency funds to these shelters.

“To use some of the funds that the state has been allocated to deal with this shortfall, and then assist in coming up with a long term strategy to assist for our victim services,” Mahoney noted.

The Speaker and Lieutenant Governor included emergency funding for this issue in their request to the Governor for a special session. He has not yet made any announcement regarding a special session or what might be on the agenda for one.

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