Baltimore County

Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County in dire financial straits

Like many nonprofit organizations, the Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County has gone through some tough times over the years.

But it's never been this bad for the county's largest shelter for domestic violence victims.


Officials said two staff members would be let go at the end of September. Employees' paychecks have been issued late twice in the past month. Family counseling services have been discontinued, as has the agency's long-term housing program.

The Dundalk center, which provides housing and counseling for victims of domestic violence, has only about a third of the $250,000 it needs for annual operating costs. The center has relied primarily on private donations, rather than public funding — a challenging strategy in tough economic times.


Executive director Doug Murphy said the 35-bed center wasn't in danger of closing, but warned that additional cutbacks could be on the horizon without a large, quick infusion of cash.

The center opened in 1979 with two employees. Over the years, services have grown from counseling to a freestanding shelter with a staff that has been as large as 23. State and local aid accounts for only a quarter of its funding. The staff will be down to 16 at the end of the month.

Staffers expect to receive a paycheck today that should have arrived last Thursday.

The financial woes make it more challenging for staffers to help clients, said Bekki Foster, the center's shelter director. It wasn't uncommon, for instance, to see some reaching into their own wallets to help clients.

"They're not able to do that right now. They're not able to pay their own bills," she said. But, "they've continued to scrounge for resources and get their clients' needs met when their own weren't being met."

Corporate and individual donations have dried up, and public funds have remained flat — "as a pancake," Murphy said.

Nothing seems to be working. Murphy said he'd tried tapping local organizations, churches and foundations for assistance. A fundraiser in June only brought in about half of its expected target.

"Everybody's stretched," said Murphy, who's worked at the center since it opened. "As the economy has shrunken, so has philanthropy."


At the same time, the center has found itself faced with increasing demand, serving 1,700 victims this year, up from 1,300 three years ago.

Officials at agencies that provide similar services have cut staff without slashing services because they rely on more stable public funding sources.

Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland in Baltimore cut 14 positions this year in areas other than domestic violence.

"The majority of our funding seems okay right now, but we do have to always subsidize it with other funding," said executive director Stanley Levi.

TurnAround Inc., which has three locations in Towson and Baltimore, cut two positions on its 25-person staff, but hasn't had to reduce any services.

Officials at the Family Crisis Center said there's anxiety over the missed paychecks and sadness over the impending layoffs and service cuts.


"My heartbreak is that we had to close the transitional house," said Foster, who has worked at the center for 20 years. The transitional house typically served victims with no family or housing options who were taking steps towards independence, such as enrolling in certification courses.

Foster said she was hopeful that better days are ahead.

"I really believe in this agency," she said. "Every day there are people who are in violent and very scary home relationships. We are very much needed and necessary. It would be very sad to close or cut back."