Critical supports for domestic violence survivors in Illinois have deteriorated during the state budget impasse, and the lives of thousands of women and children are at risk, advocates warned at an event held on Thursday.
State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford) joined domestic violence survivors and service providers at the Thompson Center to deliver that warning and rally for a budget that adequately funds domestic violence services and other important state programs.
"This budgetary issue definitely has a life or death impact," Wallace, a domestic violence survivor, told Progress Illinois. "There are people who are trapped in situations that they cannot get away from without the proper interventions and services and supports, and by not getting away, they put their lives at risk every day that they stay with their abuser."
Illinois entered its fourth month without a budget on Thursday, which also marked the start of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
While Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders continue to tussle over a 2016 state budget, many Illinois services and programs are being funded in part through court orders or with federal dollars. Most domestic violence services, however, are caught up in the fiscal battle, because the state is not authorized to spend money on them without a budget in place.
Steans said 91 percent of Illinois domestic violence shelters are not being funded while the state operates without a budget.
"That means, around the state, 75,000 people are not gonna get served, 20,000 alone right here in Cook County," she said. "This is wrong ... Real people are hurting because we are not doing our jobs in terms of getting a responsible budget passed."
A responsible budget would include a combination of revenue and cuts, Steans said.
"We need revenue. We've been making cuts. We need a combination here," she said. "We need to make sure we're not hurting critical services, like service to people who are suffering from domestic violence."
At the Thompson Center, children's shoes were displayed on the ground to symbolize those who are impacted by domestic violence.
"When there aren't enough domestic violence services out there, it's really impacting children as well as moms, and people don't see that," said Kathleen Doherty, executive director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network, which operates the statewide domestic violence hotline. "We're asking the legislators to walk in the children's shoes, and to really take a look at, if there's no domestic violence services, what are they doing to children and their moms?"
Those at the rally delivered some of the children's shoes to Rauner's office and plan to send the rest to state lawmakers.
The shoes serve as a reminder that the people who are losing access to domestic violence services "are not just numbers on a spreadsheet," Wallace stressed.
"These are real lives. The shoes here represent real lives," she told the crowd. "Those of us who are wearing our purple, even the survivors who are here, are real individuals who have been impacted by so many of the issues that we're facing right now during this budget impasse."
Here's more from Wallace, Steans and representatives from the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network:
Doherty said many providers across Illinois have been forced to reduce domestic violence services or shut down completely because of the budget stalemate.
PAVE, or People Against Violent Environments, is among the providers that have closed. Located in Centralia, PAVE provided services to residents of Clinton, Fayette, Jefferson, Marion and Washington counties.
Another southern Illinois service provider, Stopping Woman Abuse Now, or SWAN, shut down its emergency domestic violence shelter in Olney at the end of August.
In Waukegan, a key domestic violence service provider, A Safe Place, has been unable to hire additional staffers for its shelter. As a result, the number of people the shelter can accept has been reduced. The counseling program at A Safe Place has also been scaled back significantly.
Doherty said the statewide domestic violence hotline receives over 24,000 calls annually, and receiving shelter is the No. 1 requested service.
"Our staff and our call center have no place to send people," Doherty said.
She said it's time for Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders "to start talking about some real solutions" and end the budget stalemate.
"Pass a budget with adequate revenue so that we can safeguard women and children," Doherty stressed.