Striking a blow against domestic violence
By the yardstick of spending, domestic violence services are suddenly six times more important to Santa Clara County leaders than they were as measured by dollars in last year’s budget.
After years of stagnant annual funding of less than $1 million, the Board of Supervisors recently pumped $5 million into combatting intimate partner violence, up from less than $1 million.
Supervisors Cindy Chavez and Ken Yeager, who spearheaded the 400 percent increase, say that level of support, if sustained, could change everything. Advocates agree.
“How unique it is that Santa Clara County is really prioritizing violence against women as an issue that they want to pay attention to and invest money and resources towards,” says Adriana Caldera, chief program officer for YWCA Silicon Valley. The Y has been providing domestic violence services for 30 years.
“The state of California right now invests about $20 million toward domestic violence programming throughout the entire state. … When you think about our county specifically investing $5 million to $6 million just in our county, that’s a really strong statement.”
Until now, the five nonprofits providing those services, all of them partially funded by the County, have mostly been in reaction mode. Realistically, eradication of the problem was out of the question.
But now, advocates say, there’s enough money to aim higher, to gradually change the emphasis from crisis management to crisis prevention.
Getting real about domestic violence
“In some respects,” Chavez says of the standard reactive approach to domestic violence services, “I think we’ve been kind of black and white, right? Like, success is person A leaves person B forever and they move on with their lives and they live happily ever after.
“For anybody who has a family, you know life is always more complicated than that. And so I think … what these resources give us a chance to do is test what works along a continuum, stop doing what doesn’t work and invest in new ways to think about how we address these complex problems.”
The County and service providers, she says, can now embrace the famous Silicon Valley view that innovative products needn’t be perfect right off the bat. Rather, they can be launched, evaluated and perfected over time through constant iteration.
“We’re so afraid that the newspaper is going to write something bad about us, or reporters are going to say something negative about us, or we’re going to look wasteful to the public that we lack the kind of ingenuity to make significant changes in our social lives,” she says. “We would expect nothing less from the people who are creating the new thing relative to applications or computers, (so) why wouldn’t we expect that in social innovation?”
20,000 annual calls for domestic violence services
A budget increase of 500 percent is practically unheard of at any level of government. And this one was approved only after Supervisors Chavez and Ken Yeager co-chaired an intimate partner violence task force that spent about 18 months thoroughly investigating which programs were working, which weren’t, and what more could be done.
What justifies a fivefold increase? Data, Chavez and Yeager say.
The five nonprofits that serve survivors of intimate partner violence take nearly 20,000 calls for services each year, not including 911 calls to the police. “And that doesn’t even consider all the people that don’t even make the call,” Chavez says.
The County domestic violence budget has been under $1 million for many years. Over that time, the demand has grown along with the County population, now nearly 2 million. The cost of providing services has risen, too, along with the cost of land for shelters and offices. The effect has been to erode the service agencies’ ability to help victims. “Turning people away?” Chavez says. “Who wants to be in that game?”
Chavez credits the task force with being open to change, adding that Yeager was instrumental in keeping the lesser-known issue of domestic violence within the LGBTQ community in mind as the policy and budget discussions arising from the task force proceeded.
Yeager’s happy that the board recognized the unique needs of LGBTQ people. For example, he said, there is now money to improve law enforcement’s understanding of LGBTQ relationships and to take such relationships seriously.
“But we also realized that we needed a safe house for LGBT people as well,” Yeager said. “And so the county is committed to finding the dollars and finding a place … for people to go, so I’m very proud of that, as well.”
“How unique it is that Santa Clara County is really prioritizing violence against women as an issue that they want to pay attention to and invest money and resources towards. … When you think about our county specifically investing $5 million to $6 million just in our county, that’s a really strong statement.”
— Adriana Caldera, chief program officer for YWCA Silicon Valley
Stringent funding requirements have long fueled frustration among the service providers and the survivors. For example, money designated as empowerment funds for domestic violence victims, can’t be used for say, sexual assault services, and vice versa. Yet often, survivors are victims of both.
Now, with more money available, it’ll be easier to get people the services they need when they need them, say advocates like Perla Flores, director of the solutions to violence division at Community Solutions.
“To be able to address all the different kinds of trauma comprehensively is such an important piece of helping individuals recover from the trauma and abuse in the long term,” Flores said.
The increase for domestic violence isn’t the only way the County has shown its commitment to women. The Board of Supervisors recently approved money for the Office of Women’s Policy to double its staff size to 14. The OWP is also deeply involved in combating intimate partner violence.
Author: Chuck Carroll
Domestic Violence hotlines and websites in Santa Clara County
AACI Asian Women’s Home
English, several common Asian languages
(South County service area)
English, Spanish, Portuguese, Farsi
English, South Asian languages
Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence
English, Spanish, Vietnamese
YWCA Silicon Valley