Slipping through the cracks

© 2017- Rochelle News-Leader

ROCHELLE — With the ongoing Illinois budget crisis, last year’s passage of the stopgap budget provided funding for several government services including education, road projects, and human services. HOPE of Ogle County, along with domestic violence agencies throughout the state slipped through the cracks, so to speak.

HOPE’s executive director, Ruth Carter, said because domestic violence agencies were not included in the stopgap budget, they have not received the funding that has been contractually agreed to.

As expected, the news came as an unwelcome surprise for Carter and all domestic violence agencies in Illinois.

“We found out in December we were accidentally not attached to the stopgap budget,” Carter said. “When you have a contract with the state (Department of Human Services) saying they have to pay you…a lot of these agencies are questioning how to keep staff and services afloat when you don’t have your largest funder.”

The Department of Human Services funds roughly 40 percent of HOPE’s yearly budget.

Carter said the situation is similar to an overdue bill — to the tune of $178,000 owed to the Ogle County agency.

S.O.S. part two

Because the state is the largest funder for HOPE of Ogle County, and with the absence of this money, the local domestic violence agency has had to rely on other avenues to bridge the gap. Fortunately the agency’s thrift store, Hope Chest, along with the option to cash in a certificate of deposit, has helped supplement the much-needed funding.

The funding is only a temporary solution for the local domestic violence agency. Fortunately there has been enough foresight to plan for emergencies unlike some other agencies that do not have reserve funding. Carter said a domestic violence shelter in Carbondale that serves five counties has had to shut their doors, leaving people in need to travel an even further distance to reach a safe haven.

“By the end of April, without additional funding we will not be able to continue with the same amount of services,” Carter said.

In November of 2015, HOPE began an S.O.S. (Save Our Services) campaign to raise awareness about the important services the agency provides Ogle County. At the time the state was in the first stages on the budget stalemate. In a striking display, 538 shoes lined Rochelle City Hall representing the number of men, women, and children the agency served in 2015.

“We really want our state to solve the budget, but in the meantime while we are waiting in this two-year wait, services in domestic violence agencies are either being cut or being diminished because of it — being lessened or diminished because of the fact we haven’t received our general revenue dollars from DHS,” Carter said.

More than a shelter

Not only a domestic violence shelter, HOPE of Ogle County also provides counseling services for families, adults, children and teens, and provides court advocacy as well as Latina advocacy for primarily Spanish speaking clients. There is a transitional home that serves one family at a time.

Carter explained the court advocacy services assist not only with initial orders of protection but also subsequent court appointments. Last year HOPE provided support with 82 emergency orders of protection.

“These court advocates are able to give support through the court process in Ogle County. Most don’t know how to approach a judge or what kind of paperwork is needed when they ask for an order of protection,” Carter said. “When you are going for your immediate safety, it can be a scary and confusing process on your own. The court advocates are amazing at what they do and they support the clients through the process.”

Absence will be felt

“It’s a ripple effect. Agencies that would have to cut services are going to leave people in positions where they don’t have a safe place to go. It affects not only the person going through to not have help and support, but it will also affect the children of the families that don’t have help and support,” Carter said.

Carter also said it will impact what options local law enforcement agencies do when responding to a domestic violence call.

“We have a close working relationship with Rochelle Police Department and the County Sheriff. They provide information on HOPE and the services we can help with, whether interested in an order of protection or shelter or counseling services,” Carter said. “That piece is really important to be able to keep in place throughout our state.”

State Representative Tom Demmer agrees on the importance of funding to keep domestic violence shelters open and acknowledged he is reviewing the House Bills 3259 and 3214. These House Bills as worded makes supplemental appropriations for the domestic violence shelters along with the transferring of funds. Similar Senate Bills are 1695 and 1679.

“The funding proposed in those bills, though, is complicated,” Demmer said. “House Bill 3214 would provide funding for domestic violence shelters by sweeping funds from other sources, like the Statewide 911 Fund, the Trauma Center Fund, the Illinois Power Agency Renewable Energy Fund and several others. Fund sweeps can be controversial. We must be sure that we don't create a new problem for another area by sweeping their funds for domestic violence.”

Demmer said he remains committed to working on a balanced, comprehensive budget.

“We have to look for a complete solution or we'll end up back in crisis mode in a few months. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a sustainable budget that supports domestic violence shelters and many other important services.”

What can you do?

Citizens can contact their legislators Rep. Tom Demmer, 217-782-0535 or Senator Tim Bivins at 217-782-0180 and encourage domestic violence funds be released as a state safety priority.

About HOPE

HOPE of Ogle County is a LGBTQ safe and inclusive organization. Services are offered in Spanish and English and the facility is handicapped accessible.

Carter added that HOPE of Ogle County is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, including the emergency hotline.

“For someone to be able to reach out and get that right away, this is what we do for safety reasons. The importance of domestic violence services is that not only is it about these valuable counseling services and what you offer, but it is also the immediate safety that is available to help people.”

HOPE accepts monetary donations through their website at hopedv.org, and by mail at PO Box 131, Rochelle 61068.