Cuts could shutter DAWN

King County’s budget woes will likely spell the end to Vashon’s only domestic abuse protection program, a small but important set of services provided by the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network (DAWN), administrators with the advocacy organization said Monday.

DAWN, supported in part with county funds, is slated to lose nearly $50,000 of its budget after the King County Council votes on a new 2009 countywide budget Nov. 24. The cut represents about one-third of its funding from the county, said Lee Drechsel, DAWN’s executive director. As a result, she said, the organization has decided to close its small office space on Vashon and pull its advocate, Joanna, back to the Tukwila-based organization’s main office. (Joanna’s last name is not used for safety reasons.)

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Drechsel said. “If the dollars come back, we’re certainly committed to Vashon and want to be there.”

Women in abusive situations can still turn to DAWN, which serves all of South King County, Drechsel said. The organization has a 24-hour crisis line as well as a network of safe homes, shelters and transitional housing, all of which are available to Vashon residents.

But Drechsel acknowledged that Vashon’s situation — its rural nature as well as residents’ complete dependence on ferries — made DAWN’s presence on the Island important.

“This is a unique community,” Drechsel said.

DAWN brought its services to Vashon to replace Island Domestic Violence Outreach Service, a Vashon-based organization that unraveled after its director, Jonny Lee Morales, was charged with embezzling $20,000 from the small nonprofit. Morales ultimately pled guilty to first-degree theft in November 2005.

In the last two years, DAWN has built up a program on the Island, offering weekly support groups for Islanders, occasional presentations and one-on-one services and support. It operates out of a small office on Vashon; the address is not publicly disclosed.

Nan Joy, a Vashon psychotherapist who was instrumental in bringing DAWN to Vashon, said she was disappointed to hear the organization’s services would no longer be available on Vashon.

“If someone’s in a dangerous situation at 3 in the morning, what are they going to do?” she asked.

Women in abusive situations often find it difficult to slip away for a meeting with an advocate or attend a support group, she added. How much harder that will be if they have to leave the Island, she said.

“The outreach and education are so important. And I know that’s what Joanna did; she helped women to set up a plan,” Joy said.

The county is reeling from news earlier this fall that escalating costs and declining revenues would lead to huge cuts in the county’s annual budget. All told, County Executive Ron Sims has had to trim $93.4 million from the budget, reducing it from $659 million this year to $644 million next year.

Sherry Hamilton, the communications manager for King County’s Community and Human Services Department, said the process this year has been hard. Some Vashon organizations that receive county funding have not been hit by the budget shortfall, Hamilton said. Vashon Youth & Family Services, for instance, did not see a decrease; and the Vashon Senior Center, because of a successful grant application, will actually see an increase in 2009.

But several programs throughout the county have faced cuts, she added.

“Unfortunately, we have less funding and we had to make some very difficult and painful choices,” she said. Those organizations that experienced cutbacks in funding, she added, “will have to make the same painful and difficult choices we did and decide how to proceed.”

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