Women's shelter scales back services due to funding

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Domestic violence centers in Louisiana are recalculating how they can help and protect victims of violence. That's because this year, their budgets were sliced on a state and federal level. The director of Baton Rouge's Iris Domestic Violence Center says there's no way to do more with less.

The staff at the center has tried to make the shelter feel as much like home as possible. Donations from the community have allowed one space to be transformed into a living area, giving women a place to sit and talk. Volunteers have updated an area for the children to play and learn. Judy Benitez, the executive director of the shelter, says Catholic Charities sends over volunteer grandmothers to spend time with the younger children. That allows the mothers to take care of other things during their stay, like safety planning, prevention education programs or counseling.

Benitez has been with the shelter since February. She works with women who are trying to get out of physically or verbally abusive relationships. The center operates 24/7, housing women and their children for up to 45 days. Workers help them come up with plans and educate them on how to become independent.

Part of helping can sometimes mean renting hotel rooms for women to get away from their abusers. But the money to provide some of the services is getting slim.

"There were mid-year budget cuts of about 1.1 million statewide," said Benitez. "That resulted in about $100,000 to this agency."

Earlier this year, Benitez says, Governor Bobby Jindal wanted to see the if the services these shelters offer are cost effective. She says Jindal had proposed cutting another $1.2 million for domestic violence programs from the budget.

"Everybody says you can do more with less. You can't do more with less. You can do less with less."

Several employees and victims of domestic violence spoke to legislators. The money was added back into the budget, but Jindal did veto a recommendation to add another million dollars to the funding.

Benitez says that extra million would have saved the program from another round of cuts, this time on the federal level.

"That is approximately the amount of money we're going to lose from federal funds being impacted by sequestration," she said.

Due to some of the cuts, some shelter rooms in the seven parish area that's covered had to be closed. Benitez says outreach advocates are doubling up on jobs, which takes away one-on-one time helping and counseling the ladies.

"I hope we never get to the point where we tell people we just can't help them, but it's getting dangerously close to that point."

Benitez says running the shelter without funding doesn't work, so they depend on help from the community for some items. Things like new socks and underwear for children (of all ages), diapers, wipes, school supplies, gas cards and bus passes.

Click here for more information on the shelter.

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