On April 10, a man seeking retribution against his estranged wife opened fire in a classroom in San Bernardino, California. He ended up killing the woman, a teacher, and one of her students, an 8-year-old boy. Another boy, aged 9, was wounded.
It was just one more reminder of our dire need to address the problem of domestic violence.
Two days after the San Bernardino shooting, the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence hosted an event in Aurora meant to highlight the plight of Illinois’ domestic violence agencies, which haven’t received promised state funding since June 30 of last year.
A dozen elected officials were invited but only one showed up: state Sen. Linda Holmes, a Democrat from Plainfield. She expressed her frustration with the lack of progress on this issue.
“It makes me powerfully tired to explain why this is happening,” Holmes said. “You can’t cut everything out of the budget that isn’t profitable. I’m embarrassed by what the state is doing. Government should be collaborative, and that’s what we’re missing.”
While other human service organizations were funded in last summer’s stopgap budget, the state informed domestic violence agencies in December that they had been left out. That was an unexpected response to the serious nature of domestic violence.
I work for the nonprofit group Family Shelter Service, which like many of Illinois’s domestic violence agencies, enters into a complex contractual relationship with the state each year to provide services. These services have continued for a full year without the promised funding, hampering our ability to plan, and more importantly, limiting our ability to serve everyone who needs our help.
Last year, we were forced to turn away approximately 1,500 people, their fate uncertain. With the growing visibility of this devastating issue, our communities and state should be increasing their support. Domestic violence places untold burdens on law enforcement and even the health-care system, where people are often treated for domestic violence injuries.
Are these lives, so often in jeopardy, of no interest?
Illinois’ human service agencies have increasingly done more with less. Government funding to Family Shelter Service declined by 20 percent since 2009. For us, that has meant 18,288 less shelter nights provided in the last eight years.
Four bills now pending in the Illinois State legislature would fully fund Illinois’ domestic violence agencies immediately: Senate Bill 1695, and Senate Bill 1679, as well as the House companion pieces, HB 3259 and HB 3214.
All of these bills have bi-partisan support, with 75 co-sponsors for HB 3259 and 35 for SB 1695, according to Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Vickie Smith. With this kind of support, why aren’t these bills being called? What is more important than matters of life and death?
People from all walks of life come through our doors. Typically, their needs are short-term: a chance to get back on their feet and plan for a safer future. But if they have nowhere to go, a short-term problem becomes a chronic one.
We have a duty to help people in tragic circumstances. Every day of delay means leaving adults and children trapped in horrible situations. Every day of delay means lives at risk.
When we continue to look away from these tragedies in the making, more and more people — primarily women and children — will be unable to get out of harm’s way.
Judie Caribeaux is executive director of Family Shelter Service, a nonprofit provider based in Wheaton.