Gimme Shelter

Budget cuts and Bush are leaving victims of domestic violence out in the cold

All 28 state-funded women's shelters partner with Day One Center, a nonprofit service that provides victims access to a shelter or advocate. Because so many are operating at capacity, that means Day One might direct an abuse victim in Minneapolis to a shelter in Brainerd. And because the length of stays is increasing, Minnesota shelters, which include homeless shelters, had to turn away 1,330 people during the month of August. A study by the Wilder Research Center in 2003 found that nearly one out of every three homeless women in Minnesota was a victim of domestic violence.

The Tubman shelter's Schubring says emergency shelter for domestic abuse victims is only a quick fix for a complex problem. "As these cutbacks cut us deeper and deeper, we're not able to provide the counseling services, the public education to help others, and other innovative ways to prevent family violence," he says. "You're just putting the Band-Aid on the problem."

That sentiment is echoed by Susan Neis, executive director of Cornerstone, a domestic violence shelter in Bloomington. Cornerstone's community outreach and violent prevention programs have been the hardest hit, though Neis says Cornerstone, along with the state's other battered women's shelters, is doing everything possible to keep from turning away women. The shelter also operates at or near capacity at all times, with less staff, less funding, and fewer services.

"The 2003 legislative session was particularly harsh," says Neis. "We lost 20 percent for the shelter last year. When the state cut back, the county cut back. When the county cut back, the city cut back."

While the shelters are facing a funding crisis, Neis and other domestic-violence advocates say the other major crisis is in affordable housing. "The most devastating impact has been what has happened to affordable housing," she says. "It used to be that Section 8 certificates would turn over. Now they don't move." The city of Bloomington opened up its Section 8 waiting list in June. Over a three-day period, more than 3,400 people inquired about vouchers. Only 1,200 were able to get on the waiting list, which is where they remain today. This shortage and the cutbacks for domestic shelters are leaving many women with nowhere to go.

Under rules set by the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD), 75 percent of Section 8 vouchers must be awarded to those whose income is 30 percent or less than the household median for that area are being served. According to HUD, the median household income for families in the metro area, including Bloomington, is $76,400. That means a family of four making more than the 30 percent median of $23,000 (but less than the low-income cap of $38,300) in the metro area may never get served.

Younger women aren't faring any better with public housing. Most of those dwellings are going to those 62 and older, and the majority of lists for low-income apartments in every county are closed unless a would-be renter is elderly, disabled, or willing to remain on the only "open" list for pricier four- and five-bedroom apartments. Considering that the fair market rent (the appropriate rent and utility costs as determined in each county by HUD) for a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis and surrounding areas is $912, these women are left with few options. A person making even $35,000 wouldn't likely be able to afford to pay the two-bedroom fair market rent.

What's more, homes priced below $150,000 in Minnesota are becoming virtually extinct. Chip Halbach, executive director of Minnesota Housing Partnership, says that in 1998, 28,000 homes were sold below $150,000 in the 13-county metro area. That number dropped to 8,000 in 2003.

In the coming months, there are signs that the already burdened housing system will only get worse. In April, the Section 8 program was cut back for the first time in its 30-year history, and payments were capped at August 2003 levels, leaving housing authorities with fewer vouchers to give out. The Bush administration and HUD have plans to scale back funding for vouchers by as much as $1.6 billion next year. The change must first be approved by the Republican-controlled Congress.

But if Beal has any say, Congress won't approve the measure. Tubman Family Alliance recently lost a grant for a program that helped families navigate the convoluted housing program. She's been forced to learn the ins and outs of the system mostly on her own, something she's become accustomed to in recent months after visiting the state Capitol and writing letters to congressmen. "I'm self-involved in the politics," she says. "I get out and see what other resources are out there and find out what's going on with the government and how the laws and processes can be changed."

Though she has an affinity for watching fungus grow under a microscope, she's hoping to land a job in the political arena after she gets her GED and graduates from college. "At first, I wanted a fashion-design career," she says. "But now I want a job in politics."

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