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Nonprofits want $1.5 million more against local domestic abuse

A coalition of 28 nonprofit and civic leaders last week asked the Board of County Commissioners to spend $1.5 million more of Clackamas County funding next year on programs serving child victims of abuse and violence.

The Red Ribbon Council packed a March 20 hearing with people who had experienced abuse, using the occawsion to lobby commissioners for funding.

"The voter sentiment (is) that these are very high priority issues and that these should be prioritized within the current county budget," said Martha McLennan, executive director of Northwest Housing Alternatives.

Last summer, nonprofit organizations called on the county to include funding for child abuse and domestic violence services in the Clackamas County Sherriff's Office public safety levy renewal. The request was denied, and a formal resolution directed county employees to work with community groups to propose an alternative funding package.

'Critically underfunded'

Tonia Hunt, who announced she would be executive director of the Children's Center for only a few more weeks, said the economic crisis, the growth in the sex industry and more history of child abuse in families have combined to create a "perfect storm" for the programs.

In 2010, the Department of Human Services launched 2,400 investigations into serious cases of child abuse, a number that was less than 1,000 in 2004. In 2003, there were less than 300 confirmed cases of abuse, but that figure has more than doubled in less than a decade.

Leaders say the problem will only get worse without an infusion of cash. Of 1,900 calls to Clackamas Women's Services last year, only 200 people received shelter.

The whole public-safety system uses nonprofit organization as a "lynchpin," according to Hunt, and those nonprofits are "critically underfunded."

Of those polled, 72 percent said social services are important and should be funded, but funded by finding efficiencies and not raising taxes.

Fifty-five percent of the 400 people surveyed said they had a family member or friend who had been affected by child abuse or domestic violence.

The nonprofits organizations reported they contracted a firm to conduct a scientific survey, but they won't release the text of the survey.

More than three quarters of those polled by the council said the services are extremely important. Although a slim majority, at best, would vote to increase taxes for the issue, the committee concluded the services couldn't wait until the political climate is more favorable to voters.

Dueling polls

Commissioner Jim Bernard noted the county's own poll of voter priorities this month saw funding for domestic violence programs fall behind job creation as a priority for county residents.

"But they're not willing to pay for it, and I think that's really sad," Bernard said.

Commissioner Ann Lininger said that the more than 90 percent support for county social services suggests that voters already "take for granted" that the county is providing the services.

Bernard hoped to expand the commissioners' $200,000 grant program for nonprofit organizations to $1 million and prioritize the funding toward saving lives among the most vulnerable population.

"We have only so much money and at some point we have to ask whether we're going to let sex offenders out of jail," he said.

Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan said the demand is huge enough that she supports researching other sources of funding.

Lininger said "it's not going to be easy" but she listed line items in last year's budget such as food, travel, professional development and publications that represent $1.96 million. Lininger argued there are some really legitimate uses for those monies, and she's not suggesting it should all be cut, "but it's a good starting place," she said.

Commissioner Paul Savas said he wasn't ready to give up on the possibility that a levy would pass with education about the issue. The poll conducted by the council suggested that the numbers don't change much with education, partly because the voters feel that they're cash strapped.

"They also believe that these are public services that should already be funded," Hunt said.

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