Throughout the month of October, domestic violence centers in Santa Cruz County have been celebrating Domestic Violence Awareness Month. But the celebration has been, at best, bittersweet.
Just over the course of this past month, domestic violence centers have seen a drastic change in scenario. Over the summer, Schwarzenegger cut all of the $16 million funding to California’s domestic violence centers.
Since then, centers like Santa Cruz’s Walnut Avenue Women’s Center (WAWC)and Watsonville’s Women’s Crisis Support (WCS) have made a case for why they need state support. The original cut meant a 50 percent reduction to the budget of WAWC’s Domestic Violence Department and a 33 percent cut at the WCS.
“We all came together in response to what happened and called on our allies in our community,” said Kristie Clemens, director of the domestic violence department at the WAWC. “Fortunately, we were received by the press and were able to have a voice and be heard and made a lot of phone calls.”
On October 15 the centers saw their efforts come to fruition when $16.3 million, was restored to the centers.
The allocation represents only a temporary solution, however. The money came on loan from the state of California due to cuts the made to its Vehicle Technology Fund, and the allocation will last for one year.
“It’s a Band-Aid solution,” Clemens said. “It will give us a year of funding, and we’ll hopefully be able to secure more money.”
In the meantime, while the centers wait and fight to secure money beyond the first year, either from governmental or private sources, the county’s two women’s centers are making difficult decisions.
While both centers have maintained many core programs including legal advocacy, counseling, education outreach and providing safe homes to those who need them, cuts have had to be made elsewhere.
WCS has opted to close its doors on Fridays. WAWC is now closed on Wednesdays and has had to let go of two staff members. Additionally, WAWC is considering a reduction in hours for its advice hotline, which currently operates 24 hours a day.
The reduction in hours and services has caused longer lines and delays on the days when WAWC is still open. It has also made work more difficult for volunteers and staff members, who are now doing more work than ever for significantly less money.
Emily Steiner, a third-year UC Santa Cruz feminist studies major, interns with WAWC. She said she is worried about the cuts being discussed to the 24-hour hotline, which she works regularly.
“I’ve had participants call and say it’s very helpful that they can call at any time,” Steiner said. “If they’re not able to call, they’ll lose that support.”
According to the Santa Cruz District Attorney’s Office, on Oct. 20 there were 21 domestic violence complaints called in to emergency dispatchers in Santa Cruz County, which brought the complaint total from Oct. 1 thorugh Oct. 26 to 423.
UCSC feminist studies professor Bettina Aptheker said that university students are not immune to the threat of domestic violence, noting that students and faculty alike have reported violence problems both on campus as well as in town.
“Santa Cruz has this reputation: we’re supposed to be laid back; a really cool place; everybody’s sort of an ex-hippie,” Aptheker said. “You could have an aging hippie who could be a very sweet guy in certain circumstances and could still be a batterer. It’s two different worlds.”
Dee O’Brien, a full time staff member at WAWC, agreed.
“I think we have to pay attention to [the fact] that it’s an illusion that Santa Cruz is so unique,” O’Brien said, “because it’s not.”
As domestic violence centers continue their search for funding, Steiner believes fighting, preventing and dealing with domestic violence need to be higher priorities for Santa Cruz County.
“I think this is something that needs to be addressed in this community,” Steiner said. “It’s something that’s overlooked.”
Additional reporting by CHP City Reporter Mikaela Todd