Abuse funding lost may be gone for good

In 2014, Safe Embrace held an open house to mark its 20th year providing domestic abuse services.

In 2014, Safe Embrace held an open house to mark its 20th year providing domestic abuse services.


More of our interview with Safe Embrace director John Etchemendy can be found on page 35.

Local domestic abuse programs took a hard hit shortly after the recession got underway. They were cut off from federal dollars allocated by local governments. And economic recovery—such as it is—has not resulted in restoration of those dollars.

In an interview with the RN&R, the executive director of the shelter program Safe Embrace in Sparks was asked if his agency and the Committee to Aid Abused Women work together when shelters are full to aid each other.

“Absolutely,” John Etchemendy said. “But we’re full with waiting lists, and they’re full with waiting lists. And there’s something, you know, that not everyone would say on tape. … We don’t have the resources to adequately respond to the client’s need. Our city, you know—I don’t see them even trying to address the problem.”

Reno or Sparks?

“I’m talking about both,” he said. “Reno, Sparks. I’ve been doing this for two and a half years. I’ve reached out. Every once in a while I’ll get a meeting. We try to attend the group when we have time, the different committees [of local governments]. But we don’t receive any local funding—none. … The county does nothing. Excuse me—nothing to support non-profits specifically.”

In May, the Committee to Aid Abused Women held an event to open new shelter housing.


It has not always been that way. Joni Kaiser, founder and longtime director of the Committee to Aid Abused Women—and now a United Way official in Pennsylvania—recalled the situation: “All three governmental agencies gave funding to CAAW for decades through their Community Development Block Grant-Housing and Urban Development funding and even CSG funding and some State HUD money. This [was] a competitive process with other non-profit agencies.”

Since 1975, abuse agencies have received a portion of marriage license fees in the state as a result of legislation sponsored by Washoe County Sen. Sue Wagner in 1975. That gave the abuse agencies a funding floor but does not provide full financial support.

Hard times

According to Sparks City Councilmember Julia Ratti, pre-recession the three local governments each received federal dollars to pass along to local programs.

“Washoe County, Reno and Sparks pooled these dollars and for many years they were distributed to local nonprofits through a competitive grant process overseen by an appointed board,” she said. “You may recall the Washoe County Human Services Advisory Board. During that time, I believe domestic violence organizations competed successfully for funding. As the allocation from the federal government shrank and the needs grew during the recession the process no longer made sense and was disbanded. … Sparks chose to direct the entirety of our allocation to homeless services in an effort to make more impact in one area. I can speak for myself to say it is not a lack of recognition of the need, rather it’s a lack of a funding source at the local level to meet the need. The [Advisory Board] process also funded basic needs—disability, child care, youth services, health, seniors, etc., and the needs are significant across the board.”

Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus said Reno City Attorney Karl Hall has been trying to throw a spotlight on domestic violence. But that still leaves the issue of whether those federal dollars will be restored.

“Honestly, probably not,” Ratti said. “With the property tax cap formula suppressing local government—and school—revenue, it’s a struggle to fund basic city services let alone do anything progressive. The only exception is we just reaffirmed homeless service as our priority at the city and doubled our funding level there. Social services funding needs to be solved at the state level. One exception may be the county which does have social services built into their budget, but they have the same property tax cap issue. Really part of the question is which level of government—state, county, city—should be funding which services.”

“If you drill into funding, Washoe County is structured on the revenue side to be the social services provider,” Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus said. “Cities are more infrastructure, land development and public safety.”

CAAW director Denise Yoxsimer was not available for comment.