Sedgwick County stepped up to help the Wichita Family Crisis Center deal with an unexpected budget crisis.
The nonprofit responded to an increase in domestic violence cases this past year, which the organization's leaders say strained the crisis center’s budget.
WFCC executive director Amanda Meyers says much-needed security and confidentiality upgrades were put on hold in order to provide assistance to domestic violence survivors and their children.
"We had planned to make some improvements to our facility to make sure that we were maintaining the confidentiality and the security of both our clients and our advocates and our staff," she said, "but because of these increases, we weren’t able to do that."
Meyers presented a formal funding request to the county last month, explaining that it was a one-time ask.
"We are very careful in how we plan for keeping victims safe," she said. "So we know that going forward when we can make these improvements, we will be in much better shape and won’t need to do this again."
County commissioners approved nearly $30,000 in emergency funding Wednesday by a vote of 4-1. Commissioner Jim Howell voted against the funding request.
Howell said he supports the mission of the center but wants investment to come from the private sector.
“A decision to fund a charity should be made by the people themselves, not elected officials on their behalf with tax dollars,” Howell said.
The WFCC offers emergency shelter and services such as education and advocacy to men, women and children escaping domestic violence.
The county’s funding will be used for a security gate and parking lot repairs, office renovations to improve confidentiality and operating costs related to the increasing demand for services.
Commissioner Lacey Cruse says these projects are critical to keeping domestic violence survivors safe.
"I toured this property myself. I saw the need. I understand the dire situation that this is," she said. "Every single day that this gate is not up, there is a potential for someone to be harmed."
Meyers says WFCC's confidential shelter is often at capacity, so instead of turning people away, the crisis center pays for hotel stays or other relocation. In the past year, she says the cost of hotel stays increased by 700%.
"We know that these people’s lives and their children are in danger, and so we need to keep them safe at all costs," Meyers said.
Meyers says Wichita and south-central Kansas are facing a domestic violence epidemic, with demand for services up 60% in the past year.
She says nearly all of the homicides and about half of the aggravated assaults in Wichita last year involved a domestic violence component.
Government grants and private donations fund the WFCC. Meyers says 2020 grant awards don’t take into account the increased need for services. She says the crisis center was not allowed to use grant funding for the security improvements.
"I am so appreciative of our elected officials that they are truly willing to look at what it takes our entire community to be safe including the least among us," Meyers said. "I truly believe that this will ultimately benefit all of Sedgwick County."
The WFCC opened in Wichita in 1907 as a chartered member of the YWCA. It opened the first domestic violence shelter in Wichita in 1979. WFCC rebranded and changed its name in 2016 to align better with its mission.
In October, commissioners approved one-time funding requests from two other Wichita nonprofits: $50,000 for the Kansas Aviation Museum and $25,000 for Starkey, Inc., the oldest community-based nonprofit in Sedgwick County serving people with disabilities.
Sedgwick County is in the process of drafting a policy for future funding requests from charitable nonprofit groups.