In the five East End towns, there is only one place for the victims of domestic violence – often women and children – to turn to for shelter, legal advice and support in an effort to build the strength to move on from what are often turbulent and violent home lives. For over 20 years, The Retreat, which is based in East Hampton but serves the entire East End, has offered that very support to scores of families, as well as preventative education to the community at large.
However, this year, the not-for-profit has struggled, looking at a 2008 fiscal year deficit, and despite grant and funding sources drying up, demand for services at The Retreat is growing at alarming rates. In an effort to not cut services the organization provides, The Retreat is hoping funding sources come through for 2009 – a year they anticipate will unfortunately be marked by the same increases in domestic violence as the economy continues in a downward trend.
“When guys lose their jobs they can strike out,” explained Retreat educator Elizabeth Yennie to the Southampton Town Board last week. This week Yennie said while it may not be a normal reaction to lash out and seek power over a spouse or child when that control is no longer available at the workplace, it can be the root of domestic violence.
“Stress doesn’t cause domestic violence,” said Yennie. “But domestic violence can be exacerbated by stress.”
As of September 2007, The Retreat had provided counseling to 997 people, gave criminal justice support and advocacy for 190 victims, gave personal advocacy for specific victims 871 times and provided information and referrals for 1606 individuals for the year. But as of this September, some of those numbers have grown dramatically.
So far, in 2008, The Retreat has provide counseling to 1487 individuals, provided criminal justice support and advocacy for 334 victims, gave personal advocacy for specific victims 1,124 times and has provided information and referrals to some 2,165 people. In 2007, Retreat volunteers and staff made 40 hospital, home or off site visits to aid their clients. In 2008, the number has already reached 126. While the organization’s 18-bed shelter has on average operated at 87 percent capacity, according to Sag Harbor resident and Retreat educator Elizabeth Yennie this year the shelter has been at 100 percent capacity.
And despite the increased demand for services, which coincides with the troubled economy, The Retreat is looking at cuts in funding from a number of municipal sources as well as a decrease in donations from individual donors. All this, coupled with a $190,000 deficit for 2008, and an additional five percent loss projected in 2009, translates into The Retreat putting its administrative offices on Goodfriend Drive in East Hampton on the market to ensure the shelter does not have to cut more services than it already has, Retreat board president Richard Demato said.
According to The Retreat’s development director Jennifer Palmer, the organization is looking at a $32,000 cut in county funding due to budget cuts made on the state level. This, she added, does not include a third round of anticipated cuts to Governor David Paterson’s proposed budget. The Town of Southampton has slashed $2,000 in grant assistance, a portion of what it has traditionally provided to The Retreat. In the Town of East Hampton, funding to The Retreat was cut completely, to the tune of $10,000.
Funding is also down, to the tune of $100,000, in private donations – a big hit, said Palmer, when looking at a $2 million annual budget.
Yennie has approached both boards, pleading with them to reconsider the funding, which also supports the education programs The Retreat offers for elementary school to high school aged students as a preventative measure. With the national and local economy shaky at best, Yennie said she expects demand for The Retreat services will only continue to grow as stress and substance abuse associated with difficult financial times triggers domestic violence in those who already had a propensity for abuse.
“I have been here for five years and I have never seen a jump like this,” said Yennie. “Normally, I try not to answer hotline calls because we leave that to the trained advocate, but I have been answering hotline calls, simply because we are receiving so many more.”
The Retreat had employed three legal advocates in 2007, said Demato, but in August 2008, looking at a dramatic decrease in funding, The Retreat had to cut that to two, despite the need for more services was already apparent.
“We need to find some angels to help see us through,” said Demato. “We don’t want to have to go to one advocate.”
Other cuts have already been made to a program designed to get victims back on their feet through career counseling and GED education services in an overall transition program.
Â “It’s really hard,” said Demato, breaking down with tears in his eyes. “I don’t understand it … we are the only place for women and children out here. I just don’t know how they can cut all funding across the board without taking that into account. It makes no sense.”Â
Â Top photo: The Retreat’s Goodfriend Drive, East Hampton administrative offices may be put on the market as the organization battles increased costs and reduced funding. Middle photo: Key Retreat personnel Elizabeth Yennie, Jennifer Critcher, Richard Demato and Jennifer Palmer are doing what they can to ensure services don’t need to be cut at the East End’s only resource for the victim’s of domestic violence. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â k menu photos