© 2024 WXPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Four years after losing funds for supporting Black Lives Matter, a domestic violence shelter worries about their future

Embrace's Ladysmith office with a "Black Lives Matter" sign visible
Nicole Neri
Embrace's Ladysmith office with a "Black Lives Matter" sign visible

In Price County, there’s already been three domestic violence homicides just this year.

Domestic violence murder rates are at an all time high, but advocates are concerned they may not be able to keep providing the services communities depend on due to major funding issues.

Since 2020, Embrace, a domestic violence and sexual assault shelter serving Price, Rusk, Washburn, and Barron Counties, has been operating on a slashed budget.

After the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, Embrace put up “Black Lives Matter” signs.

Then, Jacob Blake was shot by police seven times in Kenosha, prompting the statewide coalition of advocacy agencies Embrace is a part of to signal their support for police reform and Embrace to release an anti-racism statement.

In response, the local law enforcement groups, which had been close working partners, pulled out of collaborative groups and the Sheriff of Barron County resigned from Embrace’s Board of Directors.

Katie Bement is the Executive Director of Embrace.

“He notified us that he would no longer support the organization or advocates for our services when survivors called 911 and he contacted other departments within our service area across county lines and told them to stop working with us too. And they did,” explained Bement.

They had been receiving $25,000 annually from the Barron County Department of Health and Human Services, but that was cut after Embrace released their statement.

“There were a lot of attempts to try to figure out, kind of, how to repair those relationships and get the funding returned,” explained Bement.

“We didn't think that we could do this work without the criminal legal system, without being aligned with the criminal legal system,” she said.

She explained that Embrace and local law enforcement agencies had spent years developing collaborative programming that Embrace didn’t want to see crumble.

Some of the 14 law enforcement agencies in the area still refer survivors to Embrace, but that’s the extent of their relationships.

Bement said that over the past four years, they’ve needed to learn how to restructure their work to be more creative and listen to people’s individual needs, as opposed to placing them on a “conveyor belt to the criminal legal system”.

“It just ruptured our optimism and privilege that policing can work for survivors. The loss of like the loss of funding makes things seem so devastating and dire but things are always moving forward and changing and we're pushing the needle,” said Bement.

Bement explained that many advocates are trained to provide support through the criminal legal system, even though survivors consistently tell them that prioritizing safe and stable housing is actually more important.

As a result, Embrace has refocused on meeting housing needs to help provide transformative justice.

“If we stop providing what we think people need, and actually listen to them, and then direct the funding and sources, or resources to those needs, we can help people stay safe. You give them the funding, they know exactly what to do to keep themselves safe,” said Bement.

Embrace isn’t just facing local cuts to funding, there are alsofederal cuts. The annual funding for the Victims of Crimes Act or VOCA has been cut by a massive 70%, translating directly into cuts to vital services.

As WXPR previously reported, the state did pass a one time funding grant to increase the budget through 2025, but Bement said that’s not enough to keep VOCA functioning at the level they need.

“A more long term fix is needed to make sure that services are available, that programs can keep their doors open, that more people aren't continued to be killed because of domestic violence,” said Bement.

Embrace had an influx of donations in 2020 that have helped them get by, but they’re concerned about when those funds run out.

“The issue is that this is a loss of funding over every year that we're experiencing,” said Bement.

If you’re struggling with abuse or violence, there are advocates and support available 24/7 through organizations like Embrace and the Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
Up North Updates
* indicates required
Related Content