When confronted by rationalization, crawfishing, and hemming and hawing about properly funding her vital nonprofit, Faith Power, executive director of The Laurel Center, says, in essence, “If not us, then who?”
It’s a great question. In terms of the Northern Valley, The Laurel Center, a comprehensive emergency shelter and service provider to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, is unique, sui generis. That is, a one-stop shop, open 24-7-365 at no cost to its victims/clients.
In a June 16 letter to City Council. Mrs. Power described the center first as “critical” and then as “essential.” I prefer the latter term, for this reason. A “perfect storm” — imagery employed by Mrs. Power — produced a dramatic rise in the number of domestic violence cases, largely resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and its ensuing lockdowns. At this very time it was needed most, The Laurel Center stood tall, remaining open throughout the ongoing health crisis — despite reductions in funding.
This year alone, the center saw critical monetary flows pinched, losing $610,000 from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice and $91,291 from the Virginia Department of Health. The nonprofit lost four key staffing positions and saw its waiting list for services — which, in addition to emergency shelter, includes companionship for hospitalized victims of domestic abuse, a 24-hour hotline, and all manner of counseling — balloon greatly. All this is hard to rationalize away, not only given The Laurel Center’s unique status but also when one learns that 92 percent of homeless women report having experienced domestic violence and 50 percent say said abuse is the immediate cause of their homelessness.
Placed in such context, certain Laurel Center statistics from 2020 — it answered 331 domestic violence calls and provided 1,165 nights of emergency shelter — become readily understandable. And yet ... And yet, when it comes to funding, Mrs. Power is forced to, well, if not beg, borrow, and steal. Then at least to scramble. This is not something I find “readily understandable,” as there seems to be sufficient dollars for such purposes.
Take, for instance, American Rescue Funds, a federal cache to help states overcome the ravages of COVID-19 from which $4.3 billion is scheduled to come to Virginia. If there’s a rub to the distribution of such dollars, Mrs. Power says, it’s that all the focus has been placed on the public health crisis while the private violence resulting from it has been overlooked or deprioritized.
And in no place, it seems, is this more the case than in Winchester, whose City Council, no friend to nonprofits (even the “essential” ones) of late, sees greater value at this time in ogling the virtues of $450,000 garbage trucks than in taking steps to assure the fiscal health of The Laurel Center.
But hasn’t it been ever thus? Either the center’s worth has been largely taken for granted, or, come funding time, this most “essential” nonprofit has been treated like the proverbial “red-headed stepchild.”