Victims’ group faces cuts in budget

EVERETT — In a span of about a week, victim advocates in Snohomish County were reaching out to three new families whose lives were suddenly shattered by violence.

A Seattle teenager gunned down in Lake Stevens. A Monroe woman stabbed to death outside her business. An Arlington mother found dead on her family’s property.

The people at Victim Support Services, formerly known as Families and Friends of Crime Victims, understand the nightmare that the surviving relatives, friends, co-workers and neighbors may endure in the coming days, months and years. In the fog of grief, there are funerals to plan and police detectives in their homes, asking questions. Later, there may be criminal trials and days they sit in the same courtroom with the person accused of taking their loved ones. Or, in some instances there may never be answers.

“That advocate can change how you can go on with your life and go on with your future,” the non-profit’s board president Elaine Wolfe said. “When you don’t have that person it can be a harder road to travel.”

Wolfe’s mother was murdered in California in 1993. She didn’t have the benefit of Victim Support Services at the time. Since becoming involved with the Everett-based group it is even clearer to her the difference having support can mean to victims and their families.

Those services, however, are being threatened by budget cuts.

The agency recently learned that it can expect about $157,000 less in grants this coming year. That’s about a 25 percent cut to an already slim budget for a non-profit group that spends about 92 cents of every dollar on direct client services.

The organization served about 1,400 crime victims and their families last year. They operate a 24-hour crisis line, offer support groups, help victims apply for financial resources, and deploy advocates to attend court hearings. They also organize yearly memorial services to honor victims and run a web site that provides resources to victims and survivors. The agency serves victims of robbery, identity theft, burglary and assault, along with providing services to the families and friends of homicide victims and missing persons. The group has been around for nearly 40 years. Many of its volunteers are former clients.

The crisis line serves 10 counties in the state. The agency also provide direct client services to five counties, including Snohomish, King, Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties.

“There’s no fluff in this organization. I don’t know how we’re going to make up $157,000,” executive director Marge Martin said.

Martin already was forced not to fill an empty victim advocate position, leaving two people to cover four counties.

The agency traditionally has received 72 percent of its funding from a federal grant which is administered through the state Office of Crime Victims Advocacy. The state office is charged by Congress with administering the Crime Victims Fund.

The fund was established in 1984 with the Victims of Crime Act. Money primarily comes from fines paid by federal criminals.

The state is expected to receive about $8 million from the U.S. Department of Justice for crime victim services. That money is split among crime victim services centers, domestic violence shelters and agencies that provide services to victims of sexual assaults. Another $1 million comes from the state’s general fund to support crime victim services centers.

The money is divided up based on population and land area, according to Rick Torrance, managing director of the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy under the state Department of Commerce.

There were cuts to the federal grants last year but the state didn’t pass those cuts on to the local centers at the time, Torrance said. Now, the state has told the service centers to brace for certain cuts, including even fewer federal dollars because of the budget sequestration.

“The cuts will effect different communities in different ways,” said Dan McConnon, the deputy director for the Community Services and Housing Division for the state Department of Commerce.

For the Everett-based agency, the cuts mean about a quarter of its budget is gone.

“It could threaten the very existence of the agency,” Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe said.

The cuts could mean advocates may not always be available to help with funeral arrangements or make every court hearing. The small staff already works incredibly hard, Wolfe said. Martin buys office supplies out of her own pocket.

“The last thing we want to do is cut staff. We can’t support our clients if we don’t have staff,” Martin said. “Our clients come first.”

Martin knows that violence can affect anyone, anywhere. Her sister, 37, was murdered in 2000 at the family home in Marysville.

She lived in a fog for a year.

“It takes you to a place you never ever thought possible,” she said.

She plans to fight to keep the doors open.

The agency’s board is reaching out to the business community and others to brainstorm more reliable funding sources. They are working to create an advisory committee that will focus on the agency’s long-term sustainability. They also are busy applying for additional grants and hoping there will be an upswing in donations.

“It’s such a needed place,” Martin said.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

For more information about Victim Support Services or to donate, call 425-252-6081 or visit www.victimsupportservices.org.

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