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Our Opinion: Fund shelters for victims of domestic violence

When a victim of domestic violence decides to leave the abusive relationship, being turned away at a shelter intensifies the fear, vulnerability and desperation.

That scenario, sadly, has been repeated statewide and here in Central Missouri.

As a step toward ensuring shelter doors are open when needed, we support Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposal to include $2 million in his 2014 budget for domestic violence shelters. The allocation, specifically, would expand transitional housing and enhance residential and support services across the state.

Jim Clardy, executive director of Rape and Abuse Crisis Services (RACS), pointed out that although demand has increased, funding has decreased. RACS operates a 36-bed shelter in Jefferson City.

Since 1999, Clardy said, bednights — an overnight stay for one occupant — have increased each year. State funding, however, has decreased, from $134,592 in 2006 to $102,735 in 2013.

“Because we get a lot of requests for women with two to three kids, we can’t always take them in,” he said. “Normally, we refer them to other shelters if we’re full.”

The disparity between demand and services is reflected in statewide statistics. Nearly 19,000 women and children were turned away from Missouri shelters in 2011 and 25,000 requests for domestic violence services were unmet, according to the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

In his State of the State address, the governor said: “We know that battered women are at greatest risk when they make the courageous decision to leave an abusive partner. Finding shelter can literally make the difference between life and death for these women and their children.”

Exaggeration abounds in the language of political persuasion, but not in this case.

Ending any relationship is fraught with unknowns. When a victim chooses to face those unknowns rather than risk further abuse, the window may be open only briefly.

When that happens, a safe and caring shelter from the storm of domestic violence is a necessity.

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