State budget cuts taking toll on local violence shelter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 29, 2003

The local Harriet’s House domestic violence shelter has been hit with cuts in state funding. Although in some ways, they "dodged the bullet," said Susanna Smith-Naisbett, shelter director.

Forty percent was cut from what the shelter receives as a member of the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Governor Bob Riley’s initial proposal was to cut funding completely, she said, but the state legislature restored 60 percent of the coalition funding in the state general fund.

With the voter rejection of Amendment One, "we had really prepared ourselves" for a funding shortfall, Smith-Naisbett said. The shelter had close calls before in previous years, and she was optimistic that state funds could be found.

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Harriet’s House received $42,000 from the coalition in fiscal year 2003; they will receive $26,000 for fiscal year 2004.

The total budget for the shelter, just approved for 2004, is $267,162, she said.

The shelter also receives another coalition grant, Department of Human Resources money (cut by $19,000), a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant, which has been cut some 40 percent in the past few years, a federal Emergency Shelter grant (that was actually increased this year), and Office of Prosecution Services money, which comes from marriage licenses.

Harriet House serves five counties: Marengo, Greene, Sumter, Clarke and Choctaw.

Since spring break of this year the center has been at maximum capacity of 16 beds, she said. There are currently nine adults and four children at the shelter. Christmas holidays are usually the busiest time for Harriet’s House.

Clients of the shelter normally are allowed at least 30 days in the shelter. "Every single person is handled on a case-by-case basis," Smith-Naisbett said.

The funding cuts forced the shelter’s child advocate staff member to be laid off, she said. "We’re providing the same services; we’re just doing it with fewer people."

The satellite office in Grove Hill was closed. However, the staff member was retained, and the Clarke County Department of Human Resources has donated office space for Harriet’s House.

Harriet’s House depends heavily on a relationship with several agencies in the Black Belt area: DHR, the Health Department, Child Care Management and area schools. "It is a coordinated community response" to help victims of domestic violence, she said.