Could women’s shelter be saved?

Published 1:46 am Saturday, August 31, 2013

Organization has stopped taking clients

A funding deficit – including the loss of some $40,000 in local grant revenue – meant that Friday was the last day for services at the Opp women’s and children’s domestic violence shelter, Opportunity House.

“It’s just so sad to see it go,” said Executive Director Deborah Hooks of the shelter that also serves Monroe and Conecuh counties. Currently, the shelter operates under the umbrella of the state coalition of domestic violence.

Hooks said in the current calendar year, 20 clients have been served, and another 40 were helped in 2012.

For years, Hooks said, she has issued public pleas for funding because of declining grant revenues.

Friday, Hooks said the shelter currently employs three people – Hooks, another fulltime employee and a part-time nighttime employee. A far cry from the 14 people in 2003, Hooks said.

“We’ve lost one person per year since we opened,” she said.

Hooks said she and the other fulltime employee work alternating 24-hour shifts to keep the shelter manned, while the third employee provides relief and does office work.

Revenues in 2001 totaled $316,000. By 2012, that number dropped to $280,000.

Hooks said grant funds totaled an estimated $140,000 in 2013. Included in that is an estimated $30,000 from a local foundation and $900 a month in general fund money.

“Our grant was cut from $60,000 to $30,000, and that general fund money, that’s gone,” she said. “Without that, we can’t continue.”

And expenditures continued to climb, she said. Annual tax returns show that beginning at the end of the 2008 fiscal year, expenditures outpaced revenues by more than $69,000; some $45,000 in 2009; $52,000 in 2010; and $45,000 in 2011.

Hooks said operational costs totaled approximately $14,000 a month – $8,000 in salaries, $1,000 in utilities and $5,000 in operation costs. She said that when families arrive, “they come with nothing,” and Opportunity House provides them with clothes and other items.

Hooks said unexpected expenses pushed the already struggling non-profit to closing and depleted their cash balances such as a $55,000 wage and hour issue for a former employee, a $15,000 sprinkler system and more than $6,000 in needed renovations.

“These were things we had to do,” she said. “And in years past, we paid for anything from doctor’s visits, dental visits and attorney fees,” she said. “And we paid for birthdays, Christmas, every holiday. That was money we spent every month, and we would even buy their groceries.”

When asked if that spending pattern contributed to the funding deficit, Hooks agreed, but said the practice stopped this year.

“But I believe we should spend like that; some people may not,” she said. “We’ve spent thousands of dollars doing it, and I don’t regret it because I think we should, because (the women and children) come here with nothing.

“All these things we buy for them,” she said. “It’s expensive. It’s not cheap, and up until this year, we’ve paid for it. I don’t just take them to Wal-Mart to go shopping. Whatever they need I’m going to get, and whatever their kids need, we’re going to get – even if it’s iPads. And whatever we buy, they take it with them. We don’t ask for it back.”

The Opportunity House Board will have until the end of September to determine what to do with the organization’s assets, such as the building and property, Hooks said. Any proceeds from the sale must go to another charity.

But there is still hope to keep Opportunity House open, Hooks said.

“We’ve got $25,000 in the bank, and I would love to see us partner with a local faith-based organization,” she said. “If we could get funding that is not grant funding, we could stay open. We need some kind of partnership to keep functioning. I don’t know of another shelter in the state that operates that way, but I would love to figure out how we can do it.”