Doubled Budget Opens Doors, Raises Challenges for LAWS

In the past five years, the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter has more than doubled its budget. And there is always more to do for Loudoun’s federally- and state-designated domestic violence and sexual assault crisis center.

 According to Executive Director Judy Hanley, LAWS, or the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter, entered 2015 with a staff of 30 people, including 11 full-timers, and a budget of $1.25 million. This year, LAWS expects to have 37 employees, 24 of them fulltime, and a budget of nearly $2.69 million.

That comes in large part because the federal government started making sure that money paid into a victims fund set up by the 1984 Victims of Crime Act, actually found its way to victims services, Hanley said. The United States Crime Victims Fund is financed by fees paid by convicted federal offenders, but the money was not finding its way into communities.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia had to make a plan on how to distribute the funding, in what way, over what period of time,” Hanley said. That meant a huge budget bump for LAWS—but that came with more strings attached.

“With that huge increase, it meant that we also now had to do things the way the federal government dictates,” Hanley said. “We were a nonprofit in Loudoun for 32 years where we were not heavily federally-funded, so we could make our own rules about who we serve, when we serve them—there was a lot of flexibility. Now, we are paid by the federal government, the state government, and the local government to carry out these services, and when you become a contractor of those three, you have a lot of rules and requirements.”

That meant new human resources structures and some reorganizing, and this year the nonprofit also got another boost—and vote of confidence—in the form of a $50,000 grant from the Claude Moore Foundation. The money also means LAWS can do more of the many things it does for the community—because the nonprofit does more than operate a women’s domestic violence shelter.

LAWS also offers a 24-hour domestic violence and sexual assault crisis hotline staffed by trained advocates for domestic violence and sexual assault services, including legal services; youth and children’s services and the Child Advocacy Center; and teen violence prevention and community outreach.

“We are not only the domestic violence agency. We are not only the sexual assault agency. We also have the Child Advocacy Center and we have a legal team,” Hanley said. “There’s no other entity in the Commonwealth of Virginia that has all four of those.”

It’s not even just for women.

“We actually served 92 male victims last year, and that doesn’t include male children,” Hanley said.

It also means LAWS can pursue new projects, launched with the help of the Claude Moore Foundation grant. Among those is helping victims who escape abusive homes stay away from them.

“The fact that we have so little housing that is affordable, and our transportation system, is not great, Hanley said. “If you’re a two-income household and you want to leave your domestic violence situation, it’s very difficult to live in Loudoun County on a single income, especially if you don’t have access to transportation.”

That has meant that about 60 percent of the people LAWS brings into the shelter can’t then transition to someplace safer—they end up back at the same home. The nonprofit is both looking into launching a capital campaign to build a new shelter closer to transportation resources, and working to help victims either find a new home, or find transportation to someplace outside Loudoun where they can be safe, such as with family.

The funding also means the nonprofit can take care of its own employees and volunteers.

“The work that we do is super intense, and we have to be trauma-informed, but sometimes staff working with trauma victims all day long, they need to have that clinical support themselves,” Hanley said. “Now we’re hiring a deputy director who hopefully has a licensed clinical social worker degree, who’s trauma-informed and trained, to lower the secondary trauma or induced trauma to staff.”

But even a huge funding windfall can come with its own risks.

“If the federal government decides that funding victims is no longer a priority—we are now 73 percent funded with federal funds,” Hanley said. “If that went away, it would be a real catastrophe for our community.”

The nonprofit isn’t just waiting around and hoping. Among their many projects was hiring Kelly Blanks, the nonprofit’s first development director. She is leading the charge out into the community to try to bring the nonprofit to at least a 50/50 funding balance and give LAWS a little more safety margin if the federal government takes that money away.

Hanley said while LAWS is well-known in the community, there is still outreach to be done to let people know they’re here to help.

“I really feel that a lot of our residents don’t know how much we can help them, and it is a huge problem, both nationwide and in our county,” Hanley said. “And there’s so many more ways we need to serve our clients.”

Find out more about LAWS, incorporated as Loudoun Citizens for Social Justice, at lcsj.org.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

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