Options prepares to close its doors|Loss of revenue from two agencies results in decision

Published 4:00 pm Sunday, September 6, 2009

Staff Writer

A tug of war between a local domestic-violence shelter and two state agencies over funding has left the shelter on the brink of closure because it has run out of money.
Meanwhile, local volunteers for the shelter, Options to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, are scrambling to provide a safe haven for nine people – including six children – who, the volunteers say, have no place to go.
Options, which is based in Washington, has provided advocacy and shelter services for battered women in Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties for years.
Services for domestic-violence victims in Beaufort County are now being provided by the Family Violence Program in Pitt County, according to Jill Lucas, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Administration, the umbrella agency that includes the N.C. Council for Women/Domestic Violence Commission.
Delma Blinson, president of the Options Board of Directors, said that as of Friday, the Family Violence Program had no room to house those in Beaufort County seeking shelter.
Telephone messages left with the Family Violence Program in Pitt County and asking what services it is prepared to provide for those in the shelter and future victims of domestic violence in Beaufort County went unanswered Friday and Saturday.
Blinson said that it isn’t realistic for the state to expect victims of domestic violence in Beaufort County to flee to Pitt County because adults, some of whom often don’t have their own transportation, need to be sheltered near their jobs so they can continue to work and children need to be sheltered near their home schools.
So, even as Options begins the process of halting its services because it is out of money, Blinson said he and other local volunteers will use their own money, if necessary, to continue to provide a safe haven for the nine people in limbo.
“It breaks my heart,” Blinson said. “We’ve laid the staff off. The shelter in Beaufort County will be closed and would already have been closed if we could have put those nine people in a suitable shelter.”
The Options Board of Directors will meet soon to find a location to house its records and will designate caretakers for those records before the board dissolves itself, Blinson said.
Earlier this month, the Dare County-based Outer Banks Hotline notified Tyrrell County officials that it had been designated by the state to handle services for domestic violence victims in Hyde and Tyrrell Counties, also previously serviced by Options. Kathy Ballance, Hotline’s education director, said that agency will mentor a grassroots community organization that will offer services to residents of those counties.
The tug of war between Options and the N.C. Council for Women and Governor’s Crime Commission over funding has been waged during the past year, but it came to a head in the past several weeks when the council notified Options that it is ineligible for grant funds from that agency, citing several requirements that Options had failed to meet. The commission also denied a request by Options for “bridge” funds.
Blinson disagreed with the assessment that Options had not met all of the state’s requirements, insisting that the state has not lived up to its end of the agreement.
“We have met every condition for a resumption of funding,” he said in a letter sent late last week to Mel L. Chilton, the council’s executive director. “Yet every time we do, we get a new set of conditions.”
The N.C. Council for Women/Domestic Violence Commission provides funds to domestic-violence programs that provide shelter services, counseling, 24-hour crisis-line services, transportation, court and advocacy services and assistance to children who have witnessed violence.
Among other activities, the Governor’s Crime Commission, a part of the N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, provides funds through its Crime Victims Service Committee to agencies that help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.
Options previously lost some of its state funding over a dispute involving repayment of $50,000 the crime commission insisted was owed the state because of improper spending by Options in a previous fiscal year. After a long fight with the state over funding, Options ran out of money, and other groups received appropriations to serve the area. In February 2009, the commission sent a contract for renewed funding to Options, with the stipulation that it hire a new director to replace Lee anne Hanson-Niver and find board members from each of the counties it served. As a result, Options hired Theresa Andrews to serve as its executive director and revamped its board.