A SHELTER for domestically abused women and a telephone hotline for the despondent have both faced financial challenges to keep running to help those in need, Newsday learnt on Monday.
Even as The Shelter – a refuge for abused women and children – on Monday celebrated its reopening after three years of renovation, board chairman Scott Hamilton explained to Newsday the monumental effort constantly made to keep the facility going, including having to find $1 million each year to fund operations.
Alternatively, Lifeline, whose tagline is "We befriend the despairing and suicidal," said it was teetering on the brink of closure after 43 years in existence, despite taking up to 30 calls a day during the pandemic period, up from ten a day previously.
Asked about his remarks that some three out of seven shelters run by NGOs are now shut down, Hamilton opined that the country does not have enough spaces to house all the abused women and children in need, adding that some residents of shelters being closed would be moved to other shelters and safe houses throughout TT.
"Ours holds 21, but due to covid we might not even be able to hold 21. A family may decide, 'We don't want anybody else in.’ We may have to have even fewer. There are lots of parameters you've got to look at."
Hamilton said each person's case is different.
"We'd hold an average family for three months and then based on the therapeutic counselling and so on we'll be advised, 'Look, they need to stay longer.'
"In those three months they are supposed to be evaluated and go through all the counselling. We try to get them a job and a home. We try to make the woman become financially independent. Sometimes it takes a little longer, but that's how it is." He said children may have to be found new school places.
Hamilton said, "We get a small subvention from the Government, under ten per cent of our budget. We require $1.1 million per annum to manage and operate The Shelter efficiently, based on government guidelines. So we now have to reach out to the general public to raise that additional $1 million. It is a lot of begging.
"The pandemic has cut into our fund-raising events and things we used to do, we no longer get. So we now have to rely on the private and the public to support us."
He said that often women and children reaching The Shelter had lost everything.
"So it's food, it's clothing, it's medical services, you name it."
Hamilton said The Shelter has an amazing team of volunteers including some who teach the children remedial reading.
"The mothers come in and may have never worked. So you've go to find them computers and train them, all within a short period of time, while giving them counselling which itself is extremely expensive.
"Then you also have to deal with the Children's Authority, the Family Court – because if they decide to go ahead and have a legal separation it means legal aid.
"There are a lot of dynamics just behind the running of a shelter."
Before entry, shelters must ensure clients are covid19-free and must liaise with the police.
"If the women or children are being abused physically or sexually, the first thing you have to do is get them to hospital to be evaluated, to get all that information ready for Family Court, etcetera, before they even come to the shelter."
Hamilton said The Shelter must pay a food bill for 21 people.
"We are all volunteers, even those on the board. None of us take a salary. We do this from the kindness and goodness of our heart. We are always working. It never ends for us.
"Many people think it is simple to open an NGO, but if you don't have a team of professionals supporting, it won't be economical to operate."
He said they have asked the Government for a greater subvention so as to meet the state guidelines such as renovating the accommodation.
"I'd like to see the Government give us more assistance."
Hamilton said the Shelter must raise 90 per cent of its costs at a time "when everyone is hurting financially."
He reckoned the number of domestic violences cases had risen by 300-500 per cent since the start of the pandemic.
"People are not working. You have your rent to pay, your mortgage, and it is difficult for them."
He asked the public to help, by ways such as by donating via the website, making deeds of covenant, or volunteering their time, He thanked sponsors such as Digicel and the Australian High Commission. "Every little bit helps."
Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV) general manager Sabrina Mowlah-Baksh lamented the closure of shelters in recent times including Myrtle's Place and Madinah House. For at least one, she attributed closure to an overwhelming financial burden.
Lifeline chairman Lucy Gabriel said the NGO has run out of private and government funding, despite the pandemic bringing them "a rapid rise in suicidal calls."
She said, “Right now, we have no paid staff, no promotions, a handful of volunteers, and can’t afford to call back desperate callers. We don’t generate an income and are dependent on private sector donations and Government.”
With suicide calls of up to seven hours, she said Lifeline cannot afford to finance a toll-free number. Appeals to Flow have yet to bear fruit, she said.
Gabriel said Lifeline had sent the Ministry of Social Development its accounts for 2014-2017 but had got no subvention for that period, just a one-off grant in 2019.
She said Lifeline cannot afford $15,000 for a 2018-2020 audit, required before seeking a subvention.
"The ministry has sent its audit staff several times in 2018 -2020. We had no adverse reports.
"We provide the service 24/7 with barely enough to pay the rent and electricity bills for the centre,” Gabriel said.