Lewis House closes in government shutdown
The effects of the state government shutdown have been, for the most part, subtle here in Hastings. But legislative gridlock has forced at least one local organization to close its doors temporarily.
The Lewis House in Hastings is part of 360 Communities and offers a safe haven for women and children who experience domestic violence. The facility provides immediate needs as well as emotional support, resources and legal advocacy to more than 900 women and children each year.
As of July 1, the Hastings location has been closed. Services provided there are being absorbed by the Lewis House in Eagan, a sister shelter.
Yet even in Eagan, services have been drastically reduced. Shelters must be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with trained professionals. The Eagan shelter is now operating on a skeleton staff - just enough people to answer crisis calls and keep the doors open. Some services, such as weekly support groups for women and children experiencing violence, have been canceled until state funding is resumed, explained Leslie Metzen, senior director of violence prevention at 360 Communities.
360 Communities, like many shelters across the state, receives much of its funding from the Office of Justice Programs, a department on the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. OJP was one of the offices closed when the state went into the shutdown, cutting off the shelter's primary income.
A $100,000 private donation is helping 360 Communities to operate in Eagan for the short term, and there are some reserves that may be available, but it won't last forever. The organization hopes it has enough funds to provide basic services through July and August.
To help make sure that happens, the organization is seeking help from community members and businesses. Donations can be made online at 360Communities.org, or by sending a check to: 360 Communities, 501 E. Highway 13, Suite 102, Burnsville, MN 55337.
Service referrals should be sent to the Lewis House in Eagan at 651-452-7288. The number is available 24 hours a day and help is confidential.
The Lewis House in Hastings is expected to re-open as soon as an agreement is reached on the state budget.
"As soon as we get the word that our funding will be restored to us, we'll call back our staff that has been laid off," Metzen said.
One question that won't be answered until funding is restored is if shelters will be paid retroactively for the time payments were suspended. Before closing, the Office of Justice Programs sent a memo to shelters telling them that decision would be left up to the legislature.
"That will be determined by the final budget agreement," Metzen said.
Some good news may be on the way, even if the state shutdown drags on. Last week, the governor's office and attorney general's office agreed that victim services are a core function of government. However, Metzen said, there has been no word on whether or not the special master also agrees and will recommend the courts make an exception for such programs before a state budget is realized.
"We're keeping our fingers crossed that our funding will be restored," Metzen said.