by Carrie C. Causey
LOUISBURG — Safe Space, the county’s domestic violence and sexual assault organization, earned a last-minute budget change in its favor Monday night, but it still won’t make up for the loss of federal grant funding.
Safe Space was previously designated to receive $8,640 in funding from the county this coming year. But following comments from Safe Space supporters and a requested budget decrease from another department, commissioners agreed to award the organization up to $35,000.
Executive Director Linda Rudolph said she is thrilled and grateful about the additional funds, though the Safe Space board hasn’t yet decided how they will be spent since it won’t cover all of their needs.
The Safe Space operating budget lost more than $200,000 because of the federal sequester and grant cuts. The one grant they received is earmarked for the women’s shelter.
But Safe Space is also used for court advocacy, school presentations and counseling, plus a 24-hour hotline, among others.
“We are losing our staff court advocate,” Rudolph said of changes taking place in their main administrative office. “Everyone will have their hours cut, a 20-percent cut in pay and receive no benefits.”
Board member Larry Marsiniak told commissioners they are a fiscally conservative board and “immediately rejected the idea of incurring any debt to make up for this shortfall.”
“Instead we were left with no choice but to cut staffing, programs and services,” he said.
The court advocate was a grant-funded position who worked to assist victims of violence with court proceedings. Other staff can help, but won’t be able to complete the work one person did full-time along with other duties.
The child advocate will also have to cut down on school presentations for themes of bullying, healthy relationships, nonviolence coping skills and cyber-stalking.
Safe Space has been the go-to organization women and children are referred to by county law enforcement, the magistrate and the clerk of court.
“That gap will either have to be filled by Franklin County agencies — at total cost to the county — or the very lives of many victims of domestic violence will literally be in jeopardy,” Marciniak said.
Board Chairman Jim Grove said the organization began almost 16 years ago and has been a model statewide. In seven years, they have helped almost 5,000 women and children.
“It is terrifying to think how their lives would have turned out had Safe Space not existed,” he said. “Certainly there would have been numerous deaths and serious injuries and thousands of children traumatized for life.”
Safe Space also will no longer be able to pay attorneys to represent victims, unless they work pro bono.
Attorney Joe Olivieri, who has worked with Safe Space, offered commissioners three reasons it should receive more funding. He said not only did it offer resources to the victims, it gave them support which may deter additional abuse, plus helps law enforcement agents and the court system.
“Safe Space saves money in the courtroom,” he said, adding, “It’s not just an opportunity to help, consider it an investment to make Franklin County better.”
Some of the options to make up the difference are fundraisers and making more money at the Safe Space-owned thrift store. Volunteers are also needed to work around the office doing more administrative duties.
Already United Way of Franklin County is helping, providing $16,000 through their partner pilot program.
Plus, United Way Director Kathy Harrelson said her board is looking for other ways they can help, including methods of helping the variety store through clothing vouchers or a day of volunteering there.
“We want to reach out and help Safe Space as much as possible,” Harrelson said. “The funding cuts they are facing are large and slice deep. They aren’t funds that can be easily replaced, but with concerted efforts the community can ease the blow. It’s time to rethink, reorganize resources and make the best of it.”
And that’s just what Rudolph is trying to do.
“I’m hoping this is temporary,” Rudolph said of the cuts. “Grant writing season is September through October, but we won’t know until April — a whole year.”
For information on how to help Safe Space Inc. at 919-497-5599 or firstname.lastname@example.org.