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Crisis Centers Struggle Amid N.H. Cutbacks

Domestic Violence Programs See More Demand, Less Money

Concord — New Hampshire’s 14 domestic violence programs are struggling to help the 16,000 people who seek their help each year at a time when government funding for their services has shrunk.

Crisis programs were forced to lay off workers and scale back services after the Legislature reduced their state funding two years ago. They gained little in the current budget and now are also dealing with federal cuts.

Dawn Reams, executive director of the Nashua center, said her center laid off two employees and only kept a satellite office in Milford open through fundraising.

The center also canceled a support group for those with substance abuse problems.

Other centers made similar cuts, said Amanda Grady Sexton of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

The cuts come as demand for help is increasing and the cases are more complex with people needing shelter staying longer, Sexton said.

She said 12 of the 14 programs have a total of 153 shelter beds but had to turn away 721 people between October 2011 and October 2012.

Reams said the 12 beds in her program — Bridges: Domestic and Sexual Violence Support Services — are always full.

The GOP Legislature cut the $320,000 in domestic violence prevention funding the coalition had being receiving by more than half in 2012 and gave the organization the same amount in 2013 to divide among the 14 programs.

The programs also share about $350,000 from marriage license fees.

Until the change two years ago, the state essentially matched the marriage license fees, said Sexton.

The coalition also gets some state funding for sheltering the homeless and providing sexual assault services, Sexton said.

Adding to the money woes, federal grant funding distributed by the coalition has been cut almost $200,000 in the last year.

Total state and federal funding distributed by the coalition dropped from $2.9 million in 2010 to $2.5 million this year.

Rep. Dan Eaton, D-Stoddard, was on the state House’s budget negotiating team and argued that domestic violence advocates are invaluable to police departments whose officers may not be trained to handle the sensitive needs of victims.

He settled for $40,000 in additional state funding for the programs.

“Reality is reality. If the money is not there, it’s not there,” said Eaton, a former police chief.

Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein said his department was fortunate to be awarded a three-year federal grant that allows him to dedicate most of one detective’s time to domestic violence victims.

One woman who considers the shelter program a blessing is a 31-year-old mother of a young son who says her husband emotionally and verbally abused her.

The woman spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because she was afraid her now-ex-husband would retaliate against her.

“I knew I needed to get out, but I didn’t see a way out,” the woman said.

A police officer helped her get a 24-hour restraining order barring her husband from the house. The next day, while seeking permanent protection, she was put in touch with an advocate from Bridges.

“I tell anyone: They saved my life,” she said.

She now lives in an apartment partly subsidized by Bridges.

“When you get out you feel almost like a child all over again because you feel so lost and scared. To listen to someone who understands is huge. A normal person on the street wouldn’t understand.

“These people know what we’ve been through. They have compassion,” she said.