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Children's Board funding cuts doom domestic violence center

BY JOSÉ PATIÑO GIRONA
Tribune staff

Published:   |   Updated: July 24, 2013 at 06:44 AM

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TAMPA - A Tampa organization that has helped victims of domestic violence for seven years is preparing to close its doors by the end of the month because of funding woes.

The Family Justice Center of Hillsborough County says it needs $170,000 to make budget or the agency will close July 31.

The center hasn't recovered from a big reduction in funding by its main donor, the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. The Children's Board allocated about $300,000 for the Family Justice Center this year, about half what it had been providing.

The agency draws money from a variety of sources to support its $950,000 budget and typically raises $65,000 to $75,000 itself each year, said Nikki Daniels, executive director of the Family Justice Center. She said the group this year increased its own fundraising to more than $100,000 but couldn't offset the lower Children's Board funding.

"That was more than we could make up in one year," Daniels said. "At this point, we're out of money."

The center serves as a clearinghouse to provide services for domestic violence victims. Its office has more than 20,000 square feet and provides space for 25 agencies and programs that offer specialized assistance to domestic violence victims, Daniels said.

From a single location, Family Justice Center staff and other agencies and programs can help assess danger, provide safety planning, find housing, offer support and complete a petition for an injunction for protection, Daniels said.

The agency was among the first of 15 such sites nationwide, created under the Family Justice Center Initiative during President George W. Bush's administration. The Tampa office opened in 2006 at Florida Avenue and Busch Boulevard at the former FloriLand Mall.

The staff of nine full-time and one part-time employee has served 11,000 families since it opened, Daniels said.

One of the challenges for domestic violence victims is having the courage to seek help, Daniels said. At the Family Justice Center, the help was in one place, meaning victims didn't have to constantly repeat their story, she said.

Some agencies use the Family Justice Center as a satellite office; for others, it's their only office, Daniels said. Daniels wonders where they'll go. She said she doesn't know where victims of domestic violence will go for the service they need.

"It's heartbreaking to think what's going to happen to people now," she said.

Kelley Parris, executive director of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, said she's sorry to see Florida Justice Center close, but she said there's nothing financially her agency can do. She said the agency has had to make hard decisions on funding for a variety of local agencies and programs.

"Many of our agencies, we aren't funding at the level of request," Parris said.

Mindy Murphy, president and chief executive officer of The Spring of Tampa Bay, said her group has been associated with the Family Justice Center from the beginning and has an outreach office at the center.

"It's a loss to the community to not have everything under one roof," Murphy said.

While it's sad to see the closure of one agency, Murphy said, The Spring will explore whether it can open an office in Central Tampa to offer similar assistance under one roof for victims of domestic violence.

jpatino@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7659

Twitter: @jpatinoTBO

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