Report: Counties sat on domestic abuse shelter money

September 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Santa Clara County is one of four counties in the state accused of failing to protect the public in connection with domestic violence. A new report says the counties didn't do what they were supposed to do to collect fees from domestic violence perpetrators and then give the money to shelters.

Year after year, domestic violence survivors and shelters have fought to prevent their state funding from being cut; most times, their efforts were unsuccessful. So the findings of a new state audit come as a shock -- there's actually more money they could've gotten to maintain services.

In reviewing cases over a four-year period, Santa Clara County sat on $715,000 that should have gone to shelters. In Sacramento County, $418,000 languished in an account. Without this money, fewer families can get help and some feel forced to go back to their abusive relationships. Shelters can't provide as many beds for women and their children. There isn't as much food and in some instances, legal services were eliminated.

"We cut crisis line lines so that people get a busy signal," said local shelter director Beth Hassett. "It decimated our domestic violence programming and we have been struggling ever since."

Shelter workers are especially frustrated the courts are lax in making batterers pay. Adding insult to injury, counties haven't been collecting mandatory court fines and fees from convicted abusers that boost funding.

In Los Angeles County, the collection rate averaged 57 percent. San Diego County had the worst at just 12 percent.

"What we've seen is some of the judges feel sorry for the perpetrators and they aren't forcing them to pay the fees they're supposed to pay," said Hassett.

While counties and courts told the state auditor they'll improve their ways and distribute the funds, shelters look back now and shake their heads.

"Had I known there was this money available, it would have completely changed how we responded to the community," Hassett said.

The lack of money is real. A one-day statewide survey last year found that shelters could not fulfill nearly 1,000 requests for services. Imagine that on a daily basis.


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