The number of services performed by the Crisis Center of Dodge City has nearly tripled, yet the availability of grant money has been steadily declining, said Joanna Zimmerman.
The state announced yesterday that the domestic abuse and sexual assault organization would again receive a Federal Family Violence Prevention and Services Act grant that provides for women and children's homes like the Crisis Center, but for about 5 percent less than was awarded last year.
The grant fund, split primarily among the states, is the only grant that provides solely for these types of organizations. But it, like the other thirteen grants the Crisis Center applies to, is shrinking. The money available to Kansans in 2014 is about the same as 2008 in non-inflation adjusted dollars, a little over $1 million.
The "sequester" and partial government shutdown "put us in a horrible, horrible position," Zimmerman said. Many grants have had payments delayed, and what is available is less than in the past. When cuts are made, rural areas are the first to lose out, she said.
Meanwhile, more people are seeking help at the center, but in some cases that's a good thing, she said. It means that public awareness of the services offered is high, and victims are more willing to leave bad situations to get help.
"It's gone from one to two families a night to a full house" at the group's shelter, Zimmerman said. On top of that, the city's housing shortage, particularly for low-income units, has made long-term stays at the shelter routine.
"It's become more of an exception for people to stay less than 90 days," she said, which includes three meals. "We're not really short-term housing, anymore." So far this year the shelter has provided 2,500 bed-nights, and 7,500 meals.
Keeping the organization running relies on meticulous grant request writing and the generosity of the staff and volunteers, Zimmerman said. In recent years the grant process has gotten more complicated as the result of added, and rarely consistent, accountability measures. Two federal grants from two similar agencies can have vastly different requirements, she said.
One example, a requirement that grantees purchase American-made supplies unless it can be thoroughly justified means buying simple goods can require significant amounts of research and cost comparisons.
Grant management is a full time job, Zimmerman said.
In general, there's "less money and more red tape," she said. Grants for $2,000 to $3,000 stop being worth pursuing when it takes more labor-hours to meet reporting requirements than the grant awards.
About 75 percent to 85 percent of the center's funding comes from government grants, and those are split about equally between the state and federal governments. It also rents office space from Ford County on Central Avenue for the low rate of $50 a month, which Zimmerman said has been incredibly helpful.
Page 2 of 2 - Ford is the only local government to provide assistance, she said, though the center serves Clark, Ford, Gray, Hodgeman and Meade counties and pays a rural advocate to travel throughout the area.
The center is trying to shift its funding burden from grants toward other sources, and is currently in the middle of a membership drive. It will also host a rummage sale at Village Square Mall on Nov. 22. Through its "adopt-a-room" program, several local businesses have joined in to help renovate the shelter. The Crisis Center also takes donations, and particularly needs food.
"And we never seem to have enough diapers."
Eventually the decline of grant money will become an existential threat to the agency, Zimmerman said, which has to draw about $125,000 from general funds this year to make budget.
"It's difficult, but we've got a very dedicated staff that hangs in there," Zimmerman said. The people drawn to the work must really care, she added. "They certainly could go make more money elsewhere."