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Lewis House and 360 Communities lose $168,500 in funding

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The budgets for 360 Communities Lewis House domestic and sexual violence shelters have recently been cut by $168,500.

The loss in funding is due to the shortfall of $6 million for United Way programs. As a result, the Greater Twin Cities United Way is reducing grants for social service programs and have eliminated Safety from Family Violence as a funding area effective July 1.

The shortfall in United Way's funding is due to an "unexpected increase in donor designations, meaning donors requested that their contributions go to a specific nonprofit, versus a United Way-supported initiative," according to the Greater Twin Cities United Way.

United Way's shortfall was not a judgement on the merit, quality or results of any program. United Way said in a statement: "We know that domestic violence in Minnesota continues to be a serious issue and that the services provided by domestic violence organizations remain vital and instrumental for our community."

Jeff Mortensen, CEO of 360 Communities, said that one in four women is affected by domestic violence within her lifetime. Each year, more than 3,000 people benefit from shelter, safety, resources, education and advocacy. 360 Communities was working hard to meet the need of those affected especially because they are the only organization with domestic violence shelters in the county.

"We had been building capacity to try and meet that need and with the reduction and hours and people we have taken a step back," Mortensen said.

With the reduction in funds for programming, Mortensen said that they had to make the difficult decision to reduce their expenses to become fiscally stable in the long term. That meant cutting three positions, said Ann Sheridan, director of violence prevention.

One major impact is around the volunteer coordination because the organization is reliant on volunteers. Tony Compton, director of marketing and communications, said that last year alone the organization had about 1,000 volunteers. The volunteer process will not flow as it used to without a volunteer coordinator.

Unfortunately, the staff reduction will also realign some of the work and will impact the ability for staff to educate and advocate in the community as much as they would like. The trained advocates offer emotional support, referrals to community resources and help navigating the court system. They partner with community organizations and teach young students peacemaking, conflict resolution, respect and more.

Mortensen said that 360 Communities is responding to the budget reductions in a couple of ways. They recently took action on an appeal to raise the awareness in the community. They are trying to recoup some of the funding that is no longer coming from the United Way through crowdfunding support. A fundraiser for 360 Communities Violence Prevention and Intervention has started on Crowdrise. For more information about the campaign or to donate, visit www.crowdrise.com/360-communities-vpi-support.

Compton said that they know the fundraiser is not a long term solution and they will work to find sustainable funding.

"We know the need is there, we see it everyday," Compton said.

The shelters are routinely at full capacity, so they know the need is prevalent in the community. Compton said that acknowledging the need is another reason the volunteer piece at 360 Communities is so important.

"Volunteers are critical, we couldn't do what we are doing without them," Compton said.

Mortensen said that 360 Communities welcomes the help from the community and will welcome anyone to learn more about them. For more information about volunteering, visit www.360communities.org/volunteer.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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