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Government shutdown could force Tampa Bay area nonprofit agencies to close their doors

With no end in sight the government shutdown is starting to affect the Tampa Bay area from all angles, leaving some domestic violence victims with no place to turn for help.
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FILE PHOTO: A mother and her child in a room

TAMPA, Fla. -- "There's so many people who will be hurt if we can't come to some sort of an agreement and move forward,” said Courtney Weill.

Weill says she can't imagine what life would be like if she didn't get help from The Spring of Tampa, an organization providing shelter, counseling and legal services to victims of Domestic Violence.

"I spent every spare moment, every break at work on the phone with the hotline creating a safety plan, realizing there was a safe place to go,” she said. “When I finally went to them for help I had a cracked skull, a sprained neck. I was damaged and so the first thing they did was immediately get medical help for me. They gave me a room where my kids both had a crib, which was really cool.”

"Nowhere to turn" may be the unfortunate reality for more than 85,000 women in Florida who called domestic violence hotlines looking for refuge just last year alone.

"People die when there aren't domestic violence services available. Children are in danger, women are endangered, lives throughout our community are endangered," said Mindy Murphy, president and CEO of The Spring of Tampa Bay.

Murphy says she's already making contingency plans if the shutdown lasts for too long. Some grant funding is tied up in federal bank accounts. She's thankful reserves will last for six to eight months but says other nonprofit agencies won't be so lucky.

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“This government shutdown is going to hurt five of the centers in our state this month, and by next month, 18 centers are going to be financially impacted, so it's a real crisis,” Murphy said.

Those five shelters served over 2,000 women, children, and men in fiscal year 2017-18. The 18 domestic violence centers facing the same fate provided services to 26,495 individuals in fiscal year 2017-18, according to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

The federal money the nonprofit agencies get come in the form of grants. Without it, they'll have to rely on private funding or find another way to get a line of credit.

Weill says these services are a lifeline.

"I received those services; food, shelter and all of these immediate needs, but I also started counseling. Individual counseling, group counseling and all of these things that began my healing process."

Now the hope is for lawmakers to come an agreement soon.

"Sit down at the table, work through the night. It doesn't matter. Do whatever you've got to do because the impact is so much greater," Weill said.

According to the Florida Coalition of Domestic Violence, from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018,  there were 180 domestic violence murders in Florida alone. 

Regarding the government shutdown, the organization released a statement saying in part, “When funding is restored it will not erase the violence suffered by those who were unable to receive services in the interim. We can restore funding, but we cannot restore loss of life.”

Here’s more information from the Florida Coalition of Domestic Violence on how the shutdown will impact domestic violence shelters in Florida.

"The provision of services to survivors of domestic violence and their children depends on a combination of private, state, and federal funding. The current government shutdown will compromise the continuation of critical lifesaving services for domestic violence survivors and their children. 

"In the wake of Hurricane Michael, Florida will face uncommon fiscal challenges that will diminish the State’s ability to compensate for any loss of federal funding.

"These factors create a perfect storm in which a desperate need for services collides with a potential gap in critical funding. During the 2017-18 fiscal year Florida’s 42 certified domestic violence centers:

  • provided 669,785 nights in an emergency shelter for 15,937 domestic violence survivors and their children;
  • completed 167,867 safety plans with domestic violence survivors;
  • provided domestic violence survivors and their children 669,785 nights in an emergency shelter;
  • answered 85,588 emergency hotline calls; and
  • provided critical outreach services to 39,138 women, children, and men."

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