Violence crisis centers busier, but funding cut

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ATLANTA --- Phones are ringing off the hook at Georgia's violence crisis centers as the tough economy translates into more reports of abuse in cash-strapped homes.

But even as domestic violence and rape crisis centers struggle to serve a rising number of victims, they have been hit with crippling state budget cuts that have forced them to slash programs and staff.

As part of Gov. Sonny Perdue's mandate for 6 percent budget cuts for most state agencies, the Department of Human Resources wiped out budget increases that would have gone to centers that help victims of rape and domestic violence.

It has sparked a concern for victims advocates who worry that violence crisis centers with already tight budgets are shouldering a disproportionate share of the budget burden.

"More victims are calling because we are getting the word out that these services are available," said attorney Shelley Senterfitt, a lobbyist for the centers. "But now what if someone calls and no one answers the phone? It sets up false expectations for victims."

Commissioner B.J. Walker declined several requests for an interview, but spokeswoman Taka Wiley said the department had little choice.

The cuts come at a time when the services are most needed, said violence crisis center leaders.

"Since the economy has been down, our shelters are almost always full now, and we have noticed a remarkable rise in the amount of calls coming in," said Beck Dunn, the executive director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Ms. Dunn said the domestic violence center cuts, which amount to $815,000, are forcing centers to lay off staff, cancel benefits plans and cut prevention programs.

The Liberty House in Albany, Ga., once sent three staff members each week to 17 counties in southwest Georgia to help women get protection orders. But now it can only afford to travel when a victim calls.

"We are losing access to people," said executive director Silke Deeley. "And victims are losing access to services and educational information."

Shawn Paul, the president of the Georgia Network to End Sexual Violence, said sexual assault centers were expecting $635,000 from the state this year. Instead they have had trouble finding the staff to operate 24-hour help hot lines and can no longer travel to victims, Mr. Paul said.

"I am very concerned about whether we can even keep all 25 rape crisis centers open," he said. "It is criminal how we expect our nonprofits to survive and provide like this."


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