House of Ruth Scrambles for Funds After D.C. Cuts $500,000

By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2009

The largest District nonprofit organization serving victims of domestic violence has lost nearly $500,000 in city funding, leaving it scrambling for new sources of money for its programs.

Christel Nichols, president of the House of Ruth, said she received an e-mail Monday alerting her that the agency would not get nearly half a million dollars in anticipated funding from the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, which lost money when the city's Department of Human Services budget was reduced. The cuts take effect Thursday.

"This is the worst I've ever experienced" in 16 years at the agency, she said. "This is the absolute worst. Even in the darkest days with the control board and the city [budget] being a disaster, we never faced anything to this degree."

Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE), the city's second-largest nonprofit organization for victims of domestic abuse, fared better Wednesday, receiving an eleventh-hour reprieve from closure.

A last-minute fundraising campaign, SaveWEAVE.org, was launched 10 days after the group's board of directors voted Sept. 9 to begin shutting down the organization and warned its 25 employees that they were unlikely to keep their jobs. Like many nonprofit organizations, which were shaky financially even before they were hammered by a weak economy, WEAVE spent much of its reserves and was struggling to survive.

Between SaveWEAVE.org and other supporters, they quickly raised more than $300,000 and helped persuade donors to keep talking about ways to save the legal, counseling and other services it provides. On Wednesday, the board voted to keep WEAVE open.

House of Ruth has offered to take on any counseling clients that WEAVE cannot continue to help. Its funding for counseling remained unchanged this year.

Another agency, Calvary Women's Services, will lose nearly $75,000 from the Community Partnership for housing and services that it provides to about 150 homeless women a year.

City officials have been trying to ensure that important services continue as they work to close a $150 million budget gap. In a statement, Neil O. Albert, the city administrator, said the District's Office of Victim Services will have no decrease in services or staff this year.

"In fact, the administration added an additional 12 units of housing and another 50 next spring" for victims of domestic violence, he said.

Nichols, the House of Ruth president, said that agency's budget cuts will affect services but not housing, which it provides to more than 600 women and children. House of Ruth also offers counseling, job skills training, help with addiction and other services. Over the past three years, the agency was awarded a $2 million that allowed it to open a shelter. The organization's annual budget is about $7.5 million.

No city organization is able to step in and offer the services, said Kenneth Noyes, executive director of the D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, because effects of the funding cuts are widespread.

The directors of his member agencies are on edge, he said, wondering whether more funding will disappear. The city funding for four of them, has been cut 50 percent, he said.

"It's just insane," he said. "Everything is on the table, in terms of cuts to services" in the next fiscal year.

Nichols said she will ask donors to fill the sudden funding gap, but she is not confident they will be able to close it in this economy. The agency might opt to scale back programs at one of its 13 sites in the city. It hopes to find a way to serve the same number of people it does now.

"When these cuts happen they aren't just threatening the budgets of our programs, they really are threatening lives," said Peg Hacskaylo, executive director of the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), which lost 10 percent of its city funding last year. She hopes the organization will not see a last-minute cut to its funding for fiscal 2010, which begins Thursday.

"When cuts force safe housing programs to close up because of inadequate resources, it ends up leaving victims unsafe," she said, "and ultimately women and children who already have limited options have nowhere to go."


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