Domestic violence shelters could lose federal money

Cassie Martin, Sheltering Wings executive director

Domestic violence shelters all across the state face a reduction in federal grants because of new regulations enacted in last year's Violence Against Women Act.

They require shelters to provide equal services to women and men, and bar federal money from going toward religious services.

"There was hitting, throwing across the room, not only me, but on the kids," said a woman sitting in the Sheltering Wings Center for Women in Hendricks County.

As she talks, she wrings her hands and her voice still trembles when she remembers the abuse.

"Threatened to kill me. Threatened to kill the kids to hurt me more," she said of her husband.

The woman doesn't want you to know her name or see her face, because some days she's still afraid.

She's thankful to be alive and share her story after spending two years at the Christian-based shelter in Danville.

"You come in and you really feel safe because of all the security. You know he can't get to you because there are so many locked doors and so many steps to get into your room," she explained.

Sheltering Wings has been helping women and children escape domestic violence for 12 years. They've been getting federal grant money for their Christian-based services, which means they are now at a crossroads of either complying with the new regulations or foregoing that federal money.

"We do provide support services to men, but our facilities aren't built to accommodate [housing] men here at the facility," explained Cassie Martin, executive director of Sheltering Wings. "The other part is that the regulations state that any government funding has to be kept separate from any programs or services that have religious content. While all of our faith-based initiatives are voluntary and we do not discriminate based on any faith that they may have - or no faith at all - we still would have to keep those completely separate.

"We're not willing to drop the Christ-centered mission from the services that we offer because it truly is the heart of who we are."

Martin says the shelter doesn't have room for male clients, but they have offered housing alternatives in the past when abused men have reached out for help.

"They do need shelters for men," said the domestic abuse survivor. "But I don't think it's right to put men and women together."

This abuse survivor says being under the same roof with male clients could hinder healing.

"All men aren't bad, but once you've been through it, you put a guard up and a shield," she explains.

If they choose not to change their programs and facilities to meet the new requirements, they could lose up to $200,000 in federal funding every year - about 20 percent of their annual budget. If that happens, they plan to go to the community to ask for help replacing those lost funds.

"Throughout the history of the shelter, we have stood firm on one of our financial integrity statements that indicates that when there is a need at the shelter, we present that to the community. The community has been overwhelmingly supportive in helping us to meet the needs of the women and children that we serve," Martin said.

For the survivor we spoke with, she credits only one way she found true healing.

"The grace of God," she said.

That's why she's glad, Sheltering Wings is sticking to its beliefs, even facing a loss of money.

"You worry. You get to thinking, 'Dear Lord, how are they going to do it? What about the programs?'" she said. "Are the women going to suffer? Are we still going to be able to house women and help women?"

Then she says the answer comes to her and she has peace no matter what happens next.

"God says, 'Don't worry. It's my shelter and I'll take care of it,'" she said.

Martin says Sheltering Wings has a nest egg set aside that could help them get through 2015 without the federal money.

The shelter also plans to reach out to the surrounding communities which they say have always been great to them in providing help to the shelter.