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Two aldermen have raised questions about the future of the City’s Victim Services program after a move by the City to bring in an outside agency to provide supplemental services on domestic violence cases.
At the March 11 City Council Administration & Public Works meeting, City staff had recommended the City Council approve a move for a six-month $75,000 service agreement with the YWCA Evanston/North Shore. The agency is to provide additional training for police, around-the-clock crisis response, as well as setting aside two beds for victims of domestic violence.
At the A&PW meeting and later on the Council floor, Aldermen Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Ald. Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, raised concerns about what effect the move would have on the City’s Victim Services unit, which historically has been responsible for those services.
The three-member unit was already down one position during last year’s budget crisis, when it was among the City programs considered for budget cuts. Aldermen at that time talked about entering a contract with the YWCA to fill gaps in service for the program that was moved from the Police to the Health and Human Services Department.
In discussion at the March 11 A&PW meeting, Ald. Fleming expressed concern about duplication of services and that “if we start to place all of our domestic violence cases with the YWCA – or the majority, or some with the YWCA, we could make their [Victim Services] positions vulnerable at budget time.”
In addition, she said she was concerned about what the move would say about the commitment Council members made “to all the citizens who came here” during budget time “about not dismantling victim services.”
Ald. Rainey stressed that the City of Evanston has been extremely fortunate to have the YWCA, considered a pioneer in domestic violence programs, in the City. “The work they do is exemplary – no one could match it,” she said.
However, she questioned the necessity of the $75,000 funding on top of the funding the agency already receives through the City’s Housing & Community Development Act Committee, which she serves on.
“It’s not clear to me from reading the provider agreement,” she said. “Every single thing in the provider agreement is currently accounted in the Community Development Block Grant proposal. That is what we provided funds for, except for a bed.”
Evonda Thomas-Smith, the City’s Health Director, noted the $75,000 was proposed during last year’s budget discussions in the wake of the elimination of the vacant advocate position. Council members added the funds then to the Health and Human Services budget to provide complementary services for the two full-time advocates the unit retained, she said.
Ms. Thomas-Smith said staff is still working on details on the complementary services the YWCA would provide. “But it kind of looks like right now we don’t have 24-hour coverage, we don’t have crisis intervention,” she told aldermen. “The advocates work a daytime shift [and] the YWCA has the capacity to provide crisis intervention.”
She said the YWCA has already committed one bed for the Evanston Police Department and would set aside another bed for abuse victims in need of one outside the time the advocates are working.
She also said YWCA senior staff has also committed to additional training with police and the City’s first responders, at the request of new Police Chief Demitrous Cook. “So the YWCA will really complement and provide comprehensive services that we are unable to provide with two full-time advocates,” she said.
Ald. Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, another member of the Committee, was excited about another service the YWCA would provide, working with perpetrators of domestic violence in an effort to change their behavior.
On the $75,000 cost, Karen Singer, President and Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA, said the agency is currently operating at capacity, handling almost 400 orders of protection every year. She acknowledged that the CDBG funding has been critical in enabling the agency to provide its services.
“But we’re at capacity, so we can’t add services unless we have the staff to do it,” she explained, “and that’s where the funding primarily goes.”
“Do you see yourself taking over the jobs of our Victim Services people?” Ald. Rainey asked Ms. Singer at one point.
“I see us as providing domestic services to Evanston residents that in prior years Victim Services provided,” Ms. Singer responded.
In line with last year’s budget discussions, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the Committee that staff is conducting a review of social service programs, to continue into the spring and summer. He said the $75,000 allocated by the Council was designed to allow the City to continue to provide the level of services in the meantime.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said he expects to come back to the Council in mid-year with “an assessment as to where we’re at with all the social services that we provide, including the victims’ advocates,” he said. At that time the City Council will provide direction, he said, relating to budget decisions.
On the Council floor, Ald. Rainey ended up voting for the funding proposal, though stressing her concerns “that this is not going to supplement our Victim Services program, but that the intention is to replace it.”
Ald. Fleming, along with Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, voted no on the proposal, which passed by a 7-2 vote. “For me, there is still some lack of clarity on how this duplicates what we already do,” said Ald. Fleming.
Ald. Braithwaite maintained that, in his support, “it was pretty clear to me” the differences the program would bring – including ongoing training and working closely with the Police Department. He also counted the group’s work with the actual domestic abusers. Members of that group “happen to be men, and we’re not currently doing that,” he said.