Women’s shelter feels pinch of government shutdown

Shonda Duncan is pictured in front of Scott County's domestic violence shelter, where she is the new interim director. (Ben Garrett/IH)

As the partial shutdown of the federal government prepares to enter its second month with no end in sight, one local organization feeling the impact of the shutdown is the Scott County Shelter Society.

The Shelter Society, which operates the community’s women’s shelter, is seeing funding restricted with reimbursements from its pool of federal grant dollars cut off until the shutdown is over.

Shonda Duncan, the Shelter Society’s executive director, believes the shelter will ultimately be okay. But, she says, the shelter was “hit hard” by the shutdown — and funding won’t last forever.

“We were worried that we would have to shut down,” Duncan said Monday. “The board (of directors) worked really hard and put their heads together. We’ll be able to continue services but it’s not clear for how long if this turns out to be a long-term standoff.”

At the center of the federal government’s shutdown is a standoff between President Donald J. Trump and congressional Democrats over funding for the president’s proposed wall along the United States’ border with Mexico. Nearly 800,000 federal employees — including local residents who work for either the federal prison in McCeary County or the National Park Service at the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, among others — have been furloughed or are deemed essential employees and are working without pay. 

Among the services that have been shuttled since the shutdown began is the grant program under which the women’s shelter operates.

“The federal grant money we receive is only given to us after we spend the money,” Duncan said. “So every time we buy groceries for the shelter or a kid a pair of shoes, the grants pay us back 80 percent. The problem is now that they’re shut down, we don’t get paid back what we spend.”

The Shelter Society survives almost solely on those grant dollars, meaning it is now operating from a “very limited pot of unrestricted money,” Duncan said.

At any given point, the shelter houses five women and at least seven children. And it turns away clients on a daily basis. 

“Even if they don’t come into shelter, we still provide services like emergency food, court advocacy and connecting them with community resources,” Duncan said.

Losing those services would be a blow to the community’s response to domestic violence.

Duncan said the most pressing need, for people who are interested in stepping up to help, is monetary donations. Those can be made by mailing them to P.O. Box 5402, Oneida, TN 37841. Donors who are interested in providing food or clothing to the shelter can do so by dropping off those donations at the Scott County Family Justice Center in Huntsville, across from Baker Highway’s intersection with Scott High Drive. 

The Shelter Society is also seeking donations of items that can be auctioned off at the annual Scott County Benefit Auction-Telethon, which is scheduled for March. The shelter is this year’s recipient of the proceeds from that event.

“I think we’re going to be okay,” Duncan said. “A lot of people are praying for us. We are just trying to hang on and be as frugal as possible.”

Ben Garrett is Independent Herald editor. Contact him at bgarrett@ihoneida.com. Follow him on Twitter, @benwgarrett.