Business & Economy

Domestic violence shelters worried about losing state funding

Workers sort through donated clothes on a recent slow Saturday at Classy Seconds in Costa Mesa.  The store is mostly staffed by volunteers.  It helps fund a local battered women's shelter.
Workers sort through donated clothes on a recent slow Saturday at Classy Seconds in Costa Mesa. The store is mostly staffed by volunteers. It helps fund a local battered women's shelter.
Susan Valot/KPCC

Domestic violence shelters are worried about losing state funding – beyond the IOUs that the state’s handing out now. KPCC’s Susan Valot says the shelters get a good chunk of their money from Sacramento.

[Sound of walking into Classy Seconds thrift shop and bell ringing as door opens]

Susan Valot: It’s mid-day on a Saturday at Classy Seconds, a boutique thrift shop in Costa Mesa that helps fund Human Options, one of Orange County’s domestic violence shelters. The street outside screams with speeding cars. But inside the store, it’s quiet and empty. Volunteers sort through piles of donated clothing in the back.

[Sound of volunteer picking up hanger and hanging up clothes in back of store]

Valot: Zee Uranga has been the manager here for six years, but she’s never seen sales this low.

Zee Uranga: We’re still seeing our regular customers, but they come in and they spend less. They used to spend – one shot would be something like a $150 sale. And then now when they come in, the same person will spend something like $35.

[Sound of bell on door ringing as customer enters store]

Uranga (talking to customer): Hi! How are you? All the regular shoes, the regular handbags are half off.
Customer: Oh, OK.

Valot: In fact, with sales hurting, the store’s in the process of moving to another location nearby, where it might get more foot traffic. When sales suffer here, so does the budget at Human Options, the domestic violence shelter the store supports. Vivian Clecak is the organization’s chief executive director.

Vivian Clecak: Upscale resale is hurting because we’re competing with on-consignment shops. We’re competing with retail markets that have cut their prices, slashed their prices.

Valot: But Clecak says what they’re really worried about is the governor’s plan to completely eliminate the battered women’s shelter grant. That provides $20 million to domestic violence shelters statewide. Clecak says the chunk of the money that comes to Human Options makes up nearly a third of its budget.

Clecak: We have a variety of funding sources. We have a reserve fund. But this is a perfect storm and it’s wiping everything out. Obviously, our donors have less money. The foundations have less money. We’re using the reserve fund. And this is the rainy day it was meant for, so I’m happy to use it, but without this state money, we will have to make major cuts. And families will suffer.

Valot: But Clecak promises they will not close down their domestic violence shelter. She jokes that the shelter will stay open, even if it means she has to go back to answering the hotline herself.

Rocio Watson (giving tour of Women's Transitional Living Center): This is one of the rooms that has recently – the two of the rooms that have been adopted...

Valot: At the Women’s Transitional Living Center, one of the largest battered women’s shelters in Orange County, Rocio Watson highlights renovations paid for by donors. A few months ago, when the state deferred its payments, this shelter almost closed. Watson says 30 percent of the center’s funding comes from the state.

Watson: We knew that this was coming, so we were preparing for it. However, we were preparing for some cuts, maybe some substantial cuts, but not for the state to completely eliminate the funding. that's what we’re afraid of.

Valot: Watson says it would be a double-whammy if the state slashes the CalWorks program, too. She says that’s what most of the women here rely on, while they re-train for the workplace and get back on their feet.

Watson: There’s no end in sight. I mean, you know, normally you get cut from one pot, but then another pot comes in and saves you. Now, you know, we’re looking to be cut at a state level. The federal government is also suffering. And then the public in general is suffering. So it becomes a lot harder. All of our pots have been exhausted, so to speak.

Valot: Rocio Watson with the Women’s Transitional Living Center says she leaned down and had to lay off people from the organization last time the state budget got rough. She says there’s not much more they can cut, without cutting services.