ASHLAND — Ashland’s domestic violence and rape victims shelter thanked elected officials Tuesday for their ongoing support of its services, but even that support doesn’t mean immediate relief.
Safe Haven’s director, Rebecca Garcia, along with some of the center’s employees, thanked state Sen. Mark Romanchuk, R-Ontario, state Rep. Darrell Kick, R-Loudonville, and state Rep. Melanie Miller, R-Ashland.
Ohio lawmakers boosted the state’s line item for crisis rape centers with $30 million over 2024 and 2025. The state budget was officially enacted July 5.
The budget appropriates $15 million annually to centers across all 88 counties that provide survivor services, including physical and mental support and treatment.
The increase comes on the heels of a time period in which funding from the federal Victims of Crime Act fell by more than $20 million in Ohio.
What is VOCA?
VOCA, enacted in 1984, draws from fees and fines collected from cases involving federal white-collar crimes and settlements. In recent years, however, more and more federal prosecutions were settled as “deferred” or “non-prosecution agreements.”
Since those people were no longer convicted of crimes, the fines and fees they paid were deposited into the general fund instead of the VOCA fund. The trend resulted in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.
President Joe Biden signed into law the VOCA Fix in July 2022, which redirects funds from deferred and non-prosecution agreements into the VOCA fund.
Still, funding for these types of services in Ohio lacks as the VOCA fund is slowly replenished. In 2023, only an estimated $7.3 million is expected to be spent on victims services across the state.
“Even though VOCA got somewhat fixed, we were not even able to ask (for) any more than previously,” said Garcia, Safe Haven’s director.
This year, for example, the agency received the “base amount” from VOCA, which was $135,372, an amount that represents 19% of Safe Haven’s annual budget.
“It’s going to take time for that pot of money to come back to levels we were previously accustomed to,” she said.
The agency anticipates receiving “flat funding” — or the base amount — again in 2024.
What does all this mean for Safe Haven?
Although Garcia said the Safe Haven hasn’t made cuts to positions recently, she said the agency’s financial situation means she isn’t able to focus on future expansions.
Currently, the shelter can only house 16 people. It’s rare the shelter has that many people staying there at once, but the need doesn’t really ever diminish — especially recently.
She said the shelter housed 60 people in 2022.
“This year we’ve already had 63,” she said. “And we still have the rest of year to go.”
Statewide, there were 9,886 people sheltered in 2022, a 6.25% increase from 2021, according to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.
Garcia said the agency works to get people in crisis shelter, whether that be through Ashland Church Community Emergency Shelter Services (ACCESS) or by booking a hotel or motel temporarily.
She also mentioned Safe Haven’s partnership with Bauer Realty, which last year donated a four-unit house to use as transitional housing to free up shelter space.
Additional funding for the shelter would mean increasing salaries for the 14 employees, potentially offering more services and looking more into future, Garcia said.
“We need green space for the children here,” she said. “And we need more rooms. We’ve been told we can’t accommodate more than 16 at this building.”