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California's Domestic Violence Shelters Lose All State Funding

California's Domestic Violence Shelters Lose All State Funding
All state funding for California's domestic violence shelters was eliminated by the Governor's line-item veto when he signed the state budget. We explore what this means to those shelters and the women and children who rely on them and options for restoring some funding.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Former San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn had harsh words for Governor Schwarzenegger in a reaction to news that all funding had been cut for the state's domestic violence shelters. Gwinn, now CEO of the National Family Justice Center Alliance said, quote, this is life and death and the governor has chosen death in the name of fiscal responsibility. The cost of one domestic violence murder in San Diego County will far exceed the money he will save by cutting the budgets of all the shelters, unquote. In a line item veto last month, the governor eradicated all domestic violence shelter funding in an effort to balance California's troubled budget. The shelters were expecting a reduction from the state but the 100 percent cut was shocking. A few of the state's shelters will have to close. Most of the others will struggle to hang on but experts in the field of domestic violence are warning the impact of the cuts will be felt throughout our community. My guests to discuss the issue are KPBS health reporter Kenny Goldberg. And welcome, Kenny.


KENNY GOLDBERG (KPBS Health Reporter): Hi.

CAVANAUGH: Heather Finley is CEO of the YWCA of San Diego. Heather, welcome to These Days.

HEATHER FINLAY (CEO, YWCA of San Diego): Thank you very much.

CAVANAUGH: Heather has brought with her a former client from one of the shelters who we will call Sarah. And good morning, Sarah.

SARAH: Good morning.


CAVANAUGH: And later we'll speak with State Senator Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco. But first, Kenny, let me start with you. Tell us what happened to the state funding for the domestic violence shelters. How much money has been eliminated from the budget?

GOLDBERG: Well, we're talking about more than $20 million, about $20.4 million, to be precise, and that was all the state funding for 94 domestic violence shelters statewide that the governor wiped out when he signed a line item veto.

CAVANAUGH: And what are the ramifications here? We're talking about 94 shelters but how many in San Diego?

GOLDBERG: Well, there's at least five that I'm aware of in San Diego and I'm told that most of them will probably survive although they're probably going to have to cut some of their services. I mean, these aren't just overnight homes for battered women and their children. They provide traditional housing, legal advice, counseling, a whole lot of other services. What I'm told is that some of the domestic violence shelters in more rural parts of California that are more dependent, more wholly dependent, on state funding probably will have to close.

CAVANAUGH: Now you recently did a feature on KPBS about the defunding of the shelters and for that feature you visited a shelter called Carol's House in North County. Tell us a little bit about that shelter and what it's like.

GOLDBERG: Well, it's a fairly new multi-bedroom home and at any one time they have 24 women and their children in this center. And in addition to having a big kitchen where the women can cook and they have a large family area where people can enjoy meals together, they have a number of different areas where they have counseling programs. The children go through therapeutic daycare and the women who are in the shelter do chores, they have to all the cleaning, wash dishes, and they have to have a codified program to find work, to get on their feet, and the center helps them with establishing restraining orders and doing some of the legal work they need to separate themselves in their abusive situation. And overnight, the governor, by eliminating the state funding, this Carol's House lost half of its funding for this year.

CAVANAUGH: Did any of the officials know what they were going to do? Did they tell you what they were going to do?

GOLDBERG: They don't know what they're going to do. They're hopeful that the legislature will find a way to put some of that funding back in the budget so they can roll on ahead but, I mean, imagine if you're running a business and suddenly 50 percent of your funding is lost overnight. I mean, you would have to be scrambling, and that's what they're doing right now.

CAVANAUGH: And, Kenny, I want to ask you, in doing this feature, did you have – did you get the opportunity to hear from any of the residents in Carol's House? Did they express any anxiety over what was going on?

GOLDBERG: Oh, they had a lot of anxiety. I talked to one woman who's in transitional housing now, went to Carol's House about a year ago, and she was really afraid that by cutting this funding a lot of women and their children won't have a place to go when push comes to shove. And she was also concerned that by cutting off services for people with domestic violence issues, it's going to perpetuate the cycle of domestic abuse, that is children who are exposed to it in the home will become inert to it and perhaps when they become parents they'll perpetuate it. So that was something she talked about.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you so much for joining us. I've been speaking with Kenny Goldberg, KPBS health reporter. Thanks a lot, Kenny.

GOLDBERG: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I want to move the conversation now to Heather Finlay, CEO of the YWCA of San Diego. Heather, tell us what the YWCA offers those trying to escape domestic violence.

FINLAY: Well, we do a number of things for – We have our shelter and our transitional housing, that's called Becky's House. And we support over 500 people a year in that particular program. And that is obviously housing, food, clothing for people who leave domestic violence situations, but we also provide the legal counseling, as Kenny was mentioning, for restraining orders, child custody battles, divorces, those are very commonplace. We provide psychological counseling. The first step in this recovering your life process is getting over the trauma or at least, you know, addressing the trauma, and we also provide career counseling because a lot of these women have never had jobs outside the home. They really don't know how to approach surviving on their own and supporting their children on their own. So a big aspect of that is employment support.

CAVANAUGH: And how does a victim of domestic violence reach your center? How do they know where to go?

FINLAY: There's a number of ways. They can call our hotline directly, which, if you don't mind, I'd like to announce it right here.

CAVANAUGH: Please do.

FINLAY: It is 619-234-3164. If you need help, please call us. But we also have a network with – among the five domestic violence shelters in San Diego County. We refer to each other. If one of us is full, we really work to try to find help for victims who call us. We also are involved – San Diego County has a hotline and a number of calls actually come through San Diego County and then we'll get referred to the various shelters. There's, you know – Actually, that is very fine tuned. You know, we really want to help people and put them in the best possible location that they can be in, so it really is a collaborative effort.

CAVANAUGH: Now I've been characterizing your reaction to the budget cuts. I'd like you to tell me your reaction to the budget cuts and how you think the elimination of funding is going to affect your programs and services.

FINLAY: It's – I think stunned was the word that most of us used when we found out about the veto and the 100 percent cut. We certainly understand that there is a budget crisis in the state. We were certainly hearing rumors, so to speak, that there would be a small reduction in our funding but we never in a million years expected a 100 percent cut. And you have to understand, too, that this is a program that has been provided by the State of California for many, many years. This has been something that, honestly, the shelters have relied on and these funds have been renewed year after year under long term contracts. So to have 100 percent of it cut does leave shelters high and dry. And this is certainly not the time for shelters to be cutting back on their services and we at the YWCA are working really hard to try to bridge that funding gap so that we don't have to reduce the number of services or not help somebody because we don't have the ability because we've had to layoff staff or what have you. This is a time where stressors are intense because of the economic situation. People with a propensity to violence can strike out even more so we are seeing more hotline calls. The police departments across the county are actually getting more domestic violence incident calls that they have to address. So in a time when people need it even more is not the time for us to be cutting back and we're working really hard to try to make sure we don't do that.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Sarah, you still live at Becky's House?


CAVANAUGH: And I wonder if you would share with us a little bit of your story. Can you tell us what having access to that shelter meant to you?

SARAH: If I didn't have access to that shelter I probably would – I'm a cancer survivor. I was in the middle of cancer treatment and I had a domestic violence incident in the middle of the cancer treatment and if I didn't have Becky's House to go to, I probably would be without benefits, searching for some – some additional cancer treatment.

CAVANAUGH: What was life like in the shelter.

SARAH: I was telling Heather just before we came on that I preferred to be in the shelter than in my relationship. I had become isolated and so I was dealing with healing from the cancer and going through the chemotherapy alone. And by going to the shelter, I had lots of women that took care of me, they cooked for me, they brought me, you know, presents, they checked on me. You know, they got scared if I wasn't moving, so it was a real community experience that I just hadn't had since I was in high school.

CAVANAUGH: Did you share stories in the shelter with the other women who were there? Did you find…


CAVANAUGH: …commonalities of your experiences?

SARAH: And worse. My experience – Let me just tell you that I'm an African-Am – a 60 year old African-American woman. I have a master's in business from an Ivy League college. I am not what is considered typically the homeless, you know, shelter, domestic violence victim. And there weren't many women who had my profile because most of the time women who come from where I came from in society don't even know about the shelters. But the stories of the women who are in the shelters were much more violent than the ones that I had experien – the one that I experienced even though I believed that if I had stayed in the relationship I would have been at risk for being killed accidentally.


SARAH: I had been – become attracted to charismatic men with violent tempers and, of course, my father was a charismatic man with a violent temper. So in many ways, I was similar to the women, it's just that the things that happened to these women, they were – Some were kidnapped for three months and had to, you know, alert someone to notify the police that they were being kidnapped and to please get the police to – I heard stories of women who, because of the involvement of drugs and alcohol, one guy just took this bat and tied her up and alm – she thought she was dead. He – he broke every bone in her arms and her legs. I mean, just hearing the stories brings tears to your eyes.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you what your life is like now.

SARAH: Now, I'm through – Through several programs at the Y, I moved out of the domestic violence shelter into a transitional housing program which allowed me to continue with my cancer treatment. And then the resources at the Y found another program for me and now I've got my own apartment. This is – I'm 60. This is the first time I've ever lived alone. And, you know, life is good.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you so much, Sarah. Heather, I want to ask you where do you think that you're going to be able to make up this money that is – has been cut? Half of your funding is gone.

FINLAY: That is an excellent question and one that we have been working on, obviously, since we've heard the news. We – You know, as you know, the economy has affected everyone so we have been reaching out to the community. If you have fared a little bit better and can spare some of your hard-earned money, it would go a long way to support victims of domestic violence. We can always use your support. But those funding circles are down, so we are looking for ways that we can encourage the public to step in and help us if at all possible. We, you know, are also working with foundations and corporations for their support. We are certainly supportive of Senator Yee and his current legislation proposal which would reappropriate funding from the Victims Compensation Fund or some similar idea or concept. Something like that would actually be ideal if it can be done quickly, you know, because obviously cash reserves are low when your funding source all of a sudden disappears. So we're certainly looking for something that would generate a revenue source for us pretty quickly to cover up that.

CAVANAUGH: We are pleased to say that we do have Senator Leland Yee on the phone with us, State Senator Leland Yee. And good morning, Senator Yee, thank you for joining us.

LELAND YEE (Senator, State of California): Well, thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: As Heather was just saying, you have introduced legislation to move some funds from the Crime Victims Compensation Fund to the domestic violence shelter program. Tell us about that legislation and how it would work.

YEE: Well, as you all know, the governor, because of blue pencil, has pretty much wiped out all state funding for domestic violence services and shelter programs. And this is because of, you know, his need to balance the budget but, unfortunately, he balanced it off of, you know, individuals who are really in need of help. This is about a $16 million cut and so the plan is to take $16 million and if I can do more, I'll try to do more, out of the Victims Compensation Fund, which has a surplus of about $134 million and reallocate that money into the domestic violence programs, and so that's how the plan is relative to our bill.

CAVANAUGH: Now are you getting any resistance to this idea?

YEE: Well, unfortunately, we are getting some resistance. The Crime Victims United, who tries to, I think, be a voice for some of the crime victims have argued that, well, this pot is really for individuals who are victims. Well, my response to that is that many of the – these women who are in domestic violence programs and shelters are already victims of violence. It's just that, you know, the perpetrator has either not been charged or there hasn't been an adjudication on that but the reality is that these are, in fact, victims and if we can help them then they will not be the kind of victims that I think oftentimes you hear about under this Victims Compensation Program.

CAVANAUGH: Senator Yee, let me ask you, why did you decide to get involved in this?

YEE: Well, I'm a child psychologist by training and I know the tragedy that befalls any family, any community, when you don't have these safety valves, these domestic violence programs. In tough economic times, there's tremendous pressure on families, on relationships and, unfortunately, what happens is that there is always going to be someone who may not know how to deal with some of these pressures and exercise that relationship by violence. And if we can provide a safety valve, a place for, you know, mom and partners and kids to go, then you lessen the likelihood of harming anybody. And then I think secondly, it provides us with an opportunity to then try to reengage the family members and move forward on a more healthy family and a more healthy relationship.

CAVANAUGH: And, Senator Yee, one last question, even with the resistance to this idea, what do you think the chances are of your legislation going through?

YEE: My – I believe that the chances are tremendous. You know, this is not about a Democrat or Republican or this is not a liberal or conserva – this is a family issue and it affects every part of California, it affects all kinds of different communities and so I believe that you're going to find tremendous response from legislators. You know, no one expected because of the budget that we put together that we would, in fact, eliminate all state funded programs for domestic violence and domestic shelter programs and so when I raised this issue, I think there was bipartisan support. It's really now more of just gathering all of that support and presenting it to the governor and, hopefully, he will then vote – that he would sign this particular bill.

CAVANAUGH: State Senator Leland Yee, thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.

YEE: Well, thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And, Heather, I want to talk to you. Let me reintroduce you. Heather Finlay, you're CEO of the YWCA in San Diego. In – I would like to get your reaction to what Senator Yee was saying.

FINLAY: I'm very encouraged that he is encouraged that this is something that can actually happen and something that all senators can get around and support and present to the governor because it does seem to be, at least at this point, the quickest way to replenish at least a portion of that funding source. And I do agree, domestic violence victims are victims. And in many instances, their perpetrators have been incarcerated so it's not a big stretch in my mind to utilize funding from the Victims Compensation Fund for this particular purpose. I think it's ideal.

CAVANAUGH: And let me ask you, in doing some reading about this, I read a quote where someone said not only is the elimination of funding just a terrible financial – it's a potential disaster for domestic violence shelters but it really sort of turns around a good track record that California has had in supporting efforts to suppress domestic violence. Do you see it as a psychological shift in some way, Heather?

FINLAY: I don't really know how to answer that because I really don't understand the shift in thinking myself. When you are in a life and death category of funding and it goes to zero, I'm not sure what the thinking there is, quite honestly. But you are right, California's had a good track record for supporting this. It – Not only is it something that helps people because this – this is an event that is very traumatic and something that we hope we can break the cycle. We know we can break the cycle. It's very important, as Senator Yee said, to address the needs of the children so that we can stop this kind of thing happening in homes across the United States. So it's very important to have this feature. I mean, many people are so isolated and so controlled, they've been alienated from family and friends. They have no place to go. And even if they do have places to go, many of them don't want to represent this as them to their family and friends, so they need other sources outside of their family circle. And if they have no place to go, then what is their alternative? Are they going to stay, and stay in a violent situation that could be dangerous to them? You know, that is not a good option and one of the things that maybe doesn't always get thought all the way through is just the impact that this is going to have. If we have more domestic violence situations, it is going to impact all of our services from a citywide and countywide perspective, which is going to cost money. So I don't really know that it's an ultimate savings even to begin with.

CAVANAUGH: Finally, could you give us the number to your hotline one more time?

FINLAY: Yes. The number is 619-234-3164, and I'd also like to give you our website if you can go online, find out more information about the YWCA, if you'd like to get involved as a volunteer or if you'd like to make a donation, it's

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. Heather Finlay is CEO of the YWCA San Diego. Thanks for coming in and speaking with us.

FINLAY: Thank you, Maureen. It was a pleasure being here, and thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And Sarah, once again thanks to you.

SARAH: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And I want to thank our guests, KPBS health reporter Kenny Goldberg and State Senator Leland Yee from San Francisco. I want to urge you to post your comments at You'll also find a link to the website that Heather was talking about and that phone number. Stay with us as we continue here on KPBS.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.