Domestic violence shelter closure looms

Tribune-Star file photo/Austen Leake

The Council on Domestic Abuse Inc. on Wednesday said it has met its $150,000 initial fundraising goal and will be able to continue offering its residential services program on South 17th Street in Terre Haute.  (Since the fall of 2017, CODA has not kept secret the shelter's location, saying knowledge of its operation better helps the public understand what CODA does.)  

Lack of cash flow has prompted the Council on Domestic Abuse Inc. to announce what it hopes will be a temporary closure of its emergency shelter for survivors of domestic violence, effective Sept. 14.

Reimbursement delays, increasing operating costs and declining contributions are being cited as the main reasons for the closure.

A campaign to raise $150,000 by Sept. 14 has begun, and CODA hopes to save 16 of the 20 jobs associated with its services, said Executive Director Sarah Campbell.

With a monthly operational cost of $50,000 for all staff and expenses, Campbell said the organization needs to have three months of cash in reserve to sustain activities when reimbursements are slow.

“We are deeply saddened to make this decision,” Campbell said Tuesday morning.

Residents staying at the 41-bed shelter were notified of the decision on Monday evening, Campbell said. CODA staff and board members were informed Monday afternoon, and an announcement was posted on the CODA Terre Haute Facebook page.

The shelter now houses 37 people, she said, and efforts are underway to find spots for those residents. No new residents will be accepted until the financial crisis is resolved.

In addition to the residential facility on South 17th Street, CODA staffs an office at the Vigo County Courthouse to provide assistance and education to people involved in legal cases involving domestic violence.

CODA also offers counseling, medical assistance, transportation, referrals for job training and education, and legal services.

“It's an unfortunate situation,” said Judge Christopher Newton, who hears the domestic violence criminal cases in Vigo Superior Court 4. 

“CODA is extremely important," the judge said. "The staff educates people in situations where their significant others are accused of domestic battery. They provide information on domestic violence and, hopefully, because of that information, people can get out of the situation or help correct the situation they are in.”

CODA staff regularly assist clients fill out necessary forms to seek protective orders. They also direct people to counseling services and community resources.

As word spread Tuesday of the suspension, donations started coming in via online giving and hand-delivered donations.

One former board member dropped off a $2,000 check, Campbell said. Online contributions brought in close to $2,000 overnight.

Cash flow problems

The organization has always operated with little financial cushion, said Campbell, who has been with the organization for six years.

The turnaround for reimbursements usually lagged only a month, she said. However, last fall the grant renewal process was dragged out and created a need to switch to a quarterly reimbursement.

“It had always worked out,” she said. “But now instead of needing to have $50,000 in the bank, we were having to have $150,000 in the bank just to sustain three months before we saw the reimbursements come in. It started in October, but we're just now at the point in the year where it has caught up to us.”

The annual budget for this year is $694,000. About 75 percent of the budget is funded by grants.

The grant money pays for staff salaries, utilities and supplies, Campbell said, but those items must be paid up front before CODA can submit for reimbursement.

Campbell said all of the grant funds CODA receives are administered by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. She has a meeting with ICJI staff in Indianapolis today to talk about the situation.

“We have always been in this situation, by the skin of our teeth, but it always worked,” she said of the reimbursements covering costs.

Another stressor to the finances came for CODA during the last year when the organization lost $20,000 in funding from the United Way of the Wabash Valley.

“That was a big hit for us,” she said.

“We have seen community donations slowly decrease over the years,” she added, “so I'm hoping that people will come forward to support us.”

Support from religious organizations has also decreased over time, Campbell said.

CODA serves five counties, but has offices only in Vigo County. Staff travels to other counties to present educational programs and workshops.

The administrative offices for CODA on Houseman Street will be closed, and all operations will move to the shelter facility.

“We will have to ask the 37 people here now to find another place to live. After that, we will be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday with just four staff left to maintain services,” Campbell said.

Support groups, case management and referral services will be offered.

The residential shelter is almost always full, she said.

The lack of cash has also prompted the cancellation of the annual apple pie fundraiser because the $6,000 in up front costs needed for that event are not available.

Impact on survivors 

On Tuesday, residents and staff were continuing to discuss the suspension of services and what it will mean for survivors.

Andrea Todd, who has been at the facility for about four months, said she plans to return to the East Coast after living in Indiana since 1996.

Todd said she came to Indiana as a violin performance student at Indiana University and got into a relationship that turned toxic. She was able to get away, she said, and moved to Terre Haute several years ago. However, another relationship also turned abusive.

“I didn't know where to go or what to do,” Todd said. “I just put up with it for a while.”

One night after she called police following a particularly violent episode, police took her to the CODA shelter.

Todd said she later went back to the relationship, but the abuse got worse.

She returned to the shelter several weeks ago and is now in the process of applying for disability due to mental health issues.

“I'm grateful to be here,” Todd said. “There are families here with kids, and they rely on these services.”

Campbell said CODA hopes to raise $150,000 to restore its full residential services.

“If just 1,000 people commit to rising $150 each, we would be able to reach our goal,” she said. “We are counting on our community to help provide a safe environment, available around the clock, for survivors of domestic violence and assault.”

The mission of CODA is to eliminate domestic abuse and sexual assault through societal change and the empowerment of abused individuals and their minor children.

Anyone needing help with a domestic violence situation in the Terre Haute area can call 800-566-CODA or the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence at 800-332-7485.

More information is also available online at www.codaterrehaute.org.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

Lisa Trigg has been a reporter at the Tribune-Star since 2009. With more than 30 years of newspaper experience, she now covers general news with a focus on crime and courts.

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