Women’s Crisis Center To Close
Money from state and local sources didn’t come through.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
If it weren’t for a staff of dedicated volunteers, the closure of the Monterey County Women’s Crisis Center would be old news. In May about a dozen staff agreed to be laid off, and to continue to work as volunteers, in order to keep the refuge for victims of rape and domestic violence open. The Salinas-based center was counting on a line item in the state budget as a lifeline to their agency. Grant funds from the state Office of Emergency Services (OES) would have saved the center. But that money never came.
The budget stalled. Beaten by financial blows and weakened by a lack of donations, the 52-day late budget proved to be the knockout punch for the 31-year-old agency. Now the center will close completely by the end of August. (The Monterey Rape Crisis Center and Shelter Outreach Plus will, for the most part, salvage the services.) But the center’s quiet closure cannot just be blamed on stubborn Republican senators.
The center lacked a visible campaign to maintain the services, and its recent hardships were mostly absent from local media. The agency’s difficulties even came as a surprise to some of its key funding sources.
Carol Singleton, spokeswoman for OES, says the state wasn’t notified when the center laid off its staff and faced closure. “They never told us that they were closing down,” Singleton says. “We would have tried to help give them some technical assistance, but we never had that opportunity.” Between two grants totaling about $393,000, OES provided the bulk of the center’s budget.
Women’s Crisis Center Board President Dean Callender admits that the center didn’t reach out to OES. But he says the board explored various ways to keep the agency running.
According to Callender, the center faced a financial shortfall in November while awaiting county and state grants. The agency tried fundraisers and called up past donors, but Callender says these efforts didn’t raise much money. Callender says the center was forced to take out a line of credit to pay the bills.
It started running short on money again in April, Callender says, approaching the end of the fiscal year. At that time the center looked into merging with Shelter Outreach Plus but once again couldn’t generate enough donations, he says.
The board considered closing the Crisis Center in May. But staff sacrificed their paychecks to keep the doors and phone lines open. “The board was just absolutely touched by this gesture,” Callender says.
Meanwhile, the center tapped Monterey County and the city of Salinas for cash. The City turned it down. (Mayor Dennis Donohue says Salinas is not in the financial position to fund nonprofit agencies.) As for the County, Callender says he contacted the offices of Supervisors Jerry Smith and Lou Calcagno, but he never made a formal presentation to the supervisors. “In retrospect I wish we would have gone forward with that,” Callender says.
The next financial miscalculation hit when the state budget gridlocked. The center had hoped to receive an advance grant from OES in mid-August, but the partisan stalemate derailed the center’s last hope.
• • •
Sitting at Elli’s restaurant in Salinas, Pat Overberg looks beat. The Crisis Center’s executive director rests her elbows on the table and peers out from under curly gray hair. She spent the day delivering records and dropping off computers to Shelter Outreach Plus.
Overberg says the services are in good hands with Shelter Outreach and the Rape Crisis Center. But still, she says, the center’s closure is devastating.
The 24-hour crisis line receives 75 to 200 calls a day. Overberg’s staff routinely visited schools for child abuse prevention, and women frequently dropped into the Pajaro Street office to get temporary restraining orders against abusive husbands and boyfriends. The center also had an office in Greenfield and served domestic and sexual abuse victims up and down the Salinas Valley.
Her staff and trained volunteers, known as advocates, pulled together to keep the services afloat for the last three months. Overberg says the agency could have survived if the state had approved a budget. But minus a $100,000 miracle, she says, the board had no choice but to close the center. “There wasn’t really anything else they could do,” she says.
Overberg says local residents and elected officials are at fault. She says she wrote three letters to the Board of Supervisors and didn’t get a response. “I blame the community,” she says. “I blame the elected officials because they didn’t want to support this agency… in terms of the work that it was doing to make it a safe community.”
Even without help from politicians, the services are set to continue. Shelter Outreach plans to take on the domestic violence counseling and hire the agency’s legal advocate. The Monterey Crisis Center will handle the crisis line calls from the Salinas Valley, send rape response teams to Natividad Medical Center and offer counseling for rape victims.
OES will fund the Rape Crisis Center through October so it can continue the sexual assault services. Clare Mounteer, the agency’s executive director, says she wants to ensure that the Salinas crisis line remain operating along with the Monterey line, so that victims can call both numbers and reach someone. The Monterey center has also applied for permanent funding under a state grant.
If it receives the grant, Mounteer says her agency will likely open a satellite office in Salinas, filling the void left behind by the Crisis Center’s closure. “I don’t expect people from Soledad to drive to Monterey for counseling,” she says. “Although in the short term that’s all we can offer.”
FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT SERVICES CALL THE MONTEREY RAPE CRISIS CENTER’S 24-HOUR CRISIS HOTLINE AT 375-4357 OR 757-1001. FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ISSUES CONTACT SHELTER OUTREACH PLUS’ 24-HOUR FAMILY HELPLINE AT 1-800-339-8228.