At the Survivors Inc. domestic violence shelter off the main drag in Gettysburg, the hardship of the state budget impasse is quantified with two numbers: 70 and 111.
That’s how many adults and children, respectively, had been turned away by the shelter since the standstill began in July, through September.
“Normally we don’t have any turn-aways,” said Survivors CEO Terri Hamrick as her eyes welled up and she gripped her hands tightly in her lap. “A lot of them ended up staying where they are. And some of them, we don’t know where they went.”
Hamrick is a professional problem-solver. Her organization takes emergency hotline calls from abused women and tries to care for them at some of the lowest points of their lives.
“We respond to the emergency room, we go with folks to court,” said Hamrick. We work with them providing services – case management, counseling, group counseling.”
But Survivors, like so many other nonprofits across the commonwealth, has seen its work interrupted by a new challenge: keeping its operations afloat without the usual government funding.
Eighty percent of the shelter’s $650,000 budget comes in the form of monthly government payments for services provided. Those payments have been stalled since late June due to the budget stalemate.
Hamrick is making payroll thanks to a collective $145,000 in no-interest loans from community businesses and fellow nonprofits since July. But it’s not enough to cover everything, including groceries, copy machines, and pest control.
Last month, the phones were disconnected. Hamrick paid a portion of the bill with the shelter’s credit card, nearly at its limit. The phone company told her the next thing to go would be the emergency hotline.
Some people ask why nonprofits like Hamrick’s don’t just lay off a few people to wait out the budget impasse. Here’s why: It could cause her unemployment compensation costs to spike. Shutting down temporarily isn’t a solution either. The shelter gets paid by the government after it provides services. No services, no check.
“We are caught both ways,” said Hamrick. She hasn’t been sleeping well – her mind is whirring with thoughts of all the little things that could pose an immediate expense and close the shelter for good. What if there’s an outbreak of bedbugs? What if someone breaks a toilet?
“There’s all these little pieces that are our day-to-day life that are just insurmountable at this point,” said Hamrick. “They shouldn’t be big things, but they are.”
In past years when the budget has been late, the shelter has lost staff – they’ve left because of the stress, the pressure, the low morale. Hamrick said three people who started with the shelter over the summer have already left.
“You know, ‘This just feels awful,'” Hamrick said they told her. “‘This just doesn’t feel like a healthy environment.’ It’s not.”
Hamrick’s office is on the second floor of her building. From her desk, she can look out a window onto the backyard. All summer, she saw moms sitting outside talking or playing with their kids.
“The thought of having to go downstairs and tell the ladies and their children that I’m sorry, and we are not going to be able to continue,” said Hamrick, “just absolutely makes me sick.”