For domestic violence programs in Idaho, stable funding is a challenge

The first night her husband attacked her, Brenda Wann said, she didn’t think she could leave him.

She didn’t feel like she had a choice.

Instead, she thought of her son, who witnessed part of the attack, and told him to leave the room so he wouldn’t get hurt.

“You think you’re doing something good by keeping your family together. I grew up in a broken home. I wanted to have a mom and dad and everything,” Wann said. “But finally I just stopped being in denial. I woke up a little bit and realized (staying) wasn’t doing any good.”

The Idaho Statesman doesn’t typically report the name of a victim of sexual or domestic violence, but Wann wanted to use her name to raise awareness of those issues.

Every minute, an average of 24 people are raped, physically attacked or stalked by an intimate partner in the U.S., according to a 2014 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The first time Wann even recognized she was enduring domestic violence was when she attended a group counseling session at Ada County’s Family Advocacy Center and Education Services (FACES).

“When they were starting to name (domestic violence) ... it really devastated me,” Wann said. “This is domestic abuse? This is domestic violence?”

After the initial shock, the realization gave her resolve to gain sole legal and physical custody of her children.

“I loved (my ex-husband) very much. I didn’t not love him,” she said. “But I loved us more. I loved my children enough to say, ‘You can’t do this to us, and if you’re going to continue this behavior you can’t live in this home anymore. You’re not going to do this to us anymore.’ ”

Court advocacy programs and counseling services at the Women’s and Children’s Alliance (WCA) gave her the courage to keep pushing, Wann said. Advocates went with her to court for support and guided her through the process of seeking legal help.

Within a 24-hour period Sept. 10, more than 500 adults and children facing domestic violence received similar services from Idaho programs, according to the 2014 one-day census conducted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

“It takes a long road of healing. It takes a lot of work. You need people to come alongside you. You need emotional help, financial help and spiritual help,” Wann said. “When I look back and think how I survived: I don’t even know how I survived it.”

But according to the same study, about 160 Idahoans who requested help that day, largely for housing, couldn’t get assistance. And in all of 2014, 22 domestic violence program staff positions — such as legal or shelter advocates — were eliminated across Idaho.

“Consistently in Idaho — and across the nation too — every year a significant number of individual adults and children are not able to access resources in the state,” said Kelly Miller, executive director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence.

And the problem is growing. Support for both staff and provided aid is inconsistent, but the need for such services remains stable or is increasing, Miller said.

“Certainly there is a correlation between fewer resources and the inability to receive services,” Miller said. “There were significant increases in requests for affordable housing for individuals looking to escape from abusive households.”

Idaho is regularly in a state of flux due to inconsistent funding, Miller said. Community-based domestic violence programs in Idaho don’t receive any direct state appropriation funding. “A significant percentage” of their budgets comes from competitive grants and other fundraising, she said.

In the national survey, 25 percent of respondents describing cases where Idahoans couldn’t get help cited less government funding, 20 percent cited less private funding and 20 percent noted fewer individual donations as among the reasons.

“The overarching concern is that Idaho still has to rely predominantly on federal funding through both the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Crime Act,” Miller said. “Most states have provided funding for community-based services since it’s a lifesaving measure and safety net for communities.”

Idaho programs will likely see an uptick in resources starting in the fall due to a five-year, nationwide increase in federal funding through the Victims of Crime Act. But that’s only a short-term fix, Miller said, and consistent funding will still be a challenge.

“The larger question is: How are we valuing girls and women (in Idaho) since those are the folks that are most impacted by domestic and sexual violence?” said Miller, who said no change to the funding model for such organizations has been recently proposed to state lawmakers. “State appropriations is part of the solution but it’s a larger societal question about our values.”

As Miller noted, Idaho is far from alone: More than 67,000 adults and children got domestic violence-related help nationwide on the day of the national study, but nearly 11,000 requests “could not be met due to a lack of funding,” according to an announcement of its results.

Wann said she still reaches out to the WCA regularly. She credits FACES, the WCA and her church, Central Valley Baptist, as the support system that ultimately got her and her children to permanent safety

“I can call them at any time if I need something — anything. And they’re there,” she said. “They say, ‘You’re family to us.’ ”