The economic recession has drained millions of dollars in funding away from programs for victims of domestic violence across Chicago, according to the agencies that serve them.
With 600 calls per day, domestic violence calls are the largest category of emergency calls received each day by the Chicago Police Department, said Aileen Robinson, domestic violence program development coordinator at the CPD.
Prior to the recession, there were 260 shelter beds for victims of domestic violence in Chicago. Today, the city has only 112 shelter beds, said Gwyn Kaitis, director of the Illinois Domestic Violence Helpline.
“Funding right now is so horrendous,” said Kaitis. She said her organization suffered a 10 percent budget decrease from 2010 to 2011, but that drop is small compared to some agencies. “There are so many domestic violence victims in homeless shelters right now, it’s unreal.”
According to Cordelia Ryan, executive director of Connections for Abused Women and Children, government funding and individual donations dropped dramatically in 2010. The lack of funds led to layoffs and mandatory furloughs within the organization, she said.
A $4-6 million project to improve Greenhouse, a 42-bed shelter for women and children has been put on hold. Despite the economic hardship, Ryan remains optimistic. “For the most part, we’ve been OK,” she said.
Apna Ghar (Our Home), a shelter that serves primarily Asian women and children, has suffered a 6 percent budget cut in the last fiscal year, according to Kanika Pahwa, a counselor there. The 15-bed, 24-hour shelter is “still struggling” with the budget cut and had to close its elder program and thrift store, said Pahwa.
In spite of budget woes, the number of domestic violence cases reported to the CPD has been on a steady decline since the beginning of the recession, according to the department’s Domestic Violence Quarterly Statistical Report. The number of cases recorded by the CPD decreased, on average, 6.28 percent each quarter between June 2008 and September 2011, according to the report.
However, organizations such as Connections for Abused Women and their Children have seen a steady increase in the volume of calls every year following 2008, Ryan said. She attributes this anomaly to the recession. Victims remain with their batterer because they have few financial options and cannot move out, she said.
Such economic instability is a stressor and can contribute to domestic violence, said Neusa Gaytan, the program director at Pilsen-based Mujeres Latinas en Accion (Latin Women in Action).
Mujeres Latinas en Accion has weathered the economic crisis, said Gaytan, but the situation has been “pretty bad.” To avoid lay offs, some services were eliminated, employees’ hours were reduced and the organization underwent a hiring freeze.
Although these measures allowed Mujeres Latinas en Accion to remain open, Gaytan said the organization has been unable to reach out to those in need of services. Furthermore, additional workers are needed to serve the growing Latino population in Chicago, said Gaytan.
Larry Bennett, professor at the Jane Addams College of Social work at the University of Illinois Chicago, said he is almost certain the number and severity of domestic violence cases will increase if shelters and services are shut down due to lack of funding. “It would be like taking cops off the street,” he said.
Kaitis suggested transferring responsibility to the community as a way for organizations to maintain services despite budget cuts. “A lot of little churches in Chicago have really stepped up to the plate,” she said.
Kaitis also called for communities to hold the abuser accountable and support the victim.
Gaytan said donations from city services would help keep the doors open at Mujeres Latinas en Accion. Employees and volunteers at Mujeres Latinas an Accion often supply victims with Chicago Transit Authority cards to help them get to and from the building, a service Gaytan said they’ve started to eliminate due to the cost. “It would be wonderful” if the CTA could donate the transit cards to the agency, she said.
“Anything will help families in need,” she added.