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Gaping Holes Appearing in AZ Abuse Victim Safety Net

November 4, 2010

TUCSON, Ariz. - Two years of state budget cuts are taking their toll on programs aimed at helping abuse victims. Shelters for victims of domestic violence and child abuse are running at or above capacity.

Tucson's Casa de los Ninos operates a crisis shelter for abused, neglected and at-risk children. Director Susie Huhn says families who have lost jobs, and then homes, have run out of options.

"We have a mom that came two weeks ago. She's trying to leave a domestic violence situation. There are no shelter beds for her because everyone's running at capacity. She has nowhere else to go, so she has two children that are staying with us while we're trying to help her to make sure that she can have a safe place to live."

Huhn reports the number of abused and neglected children seeking help at her shelter has doubled since last year, and that kids are showing up with more complex behavioral issues and staying longer. She adds the community is also running out of foster families where children can be placed. As the result of this week's elections, state legislative leaders say even more budget cuts to social programs are inevitable.

She believes some of the cuts have been short-sighted, such as eliminating programs to help at-risk families stay together and keep kids out of the child welfare system.

"Those programs cost around $5,000 a year to support a family and keep their kids at home. We spend over $24,000 a year at a minimum to have those kids in foster care."

Huhn adds budget cuts to a host of state programs have resulted in higher stress levels for low-income Arizonans, and leading to poor child care choices involving neighbors or siblings.

"If single parents with a minimum wage job lose their child care, then it's really hard to maintain employment. So, then we have families that now become unemployed, and that increases the stress. They're worried about where their next meal comes from and how long they're going to have a roof over their head."

Huhn thinks it's increasingly unrealistic to believe cuts alone can solve the state's chronic budget problems, and believes some sort of revenue enhancement will be necessary.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ