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Crisis Response Center faces a crisis of its own

The Durham Crisis Response Center, facing a series of steep budget cuts, is asking the city and county for help. 

In a meeting on Oct.10, Executive Director Damien Talley asked county commissioners and members of City Council for $250,000 to shore up funding for the center’s 24-hour emergency Domestic Violence Shelter. The shelter houses victims and families escaping or recovering from abuse. 

“We need this much money to continue doing what is necessary,” he said. 

Talley also requested that the Durham Crisis Response Center be added as a line item in the city and county budgets. 

Over the past two years, the center has seen at least $1.5 million in budget cuts, Talley reported. Meanwhile the demand for services is high. In the last year, the center sheltered over 100 women and their families and answered nearly 2,000 crisis calls, he said. 

“DCRC has had to make some incredibly harrowing choices to ensure that we are able to continue the lifesaving work of our agency. However, the likely impact of those choices cannot be clear,” Talley said in the meeting. 

As the sole domestic violence shelter in Durham, the shelter is consistently at full capacity, often having to refer victims to nearby shelters, Talley said.

The budget cuts come on the heels of opening a new office space and renovating the shelter this past spring. Federal funding for sexual assault and domestic violence services have dropped as a result of reduced Victims of Crimes Act funds and the end of COVID-era programs. The state received over $100 million in Victims of Crimes Act funding in 2018. In 2023, the state received just over $40 million from the same source.

Kathleen Lockwood, policy director of the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that in the coming year, the amount is expected to decrease once again. 

Domestic violence service agencies across North Carolina are feeling the drop in federal funding. The Orange County Rape Crisis Center, which works in partnership with Durham Crisis Response Center, announced in August that it was cutting staff by 50% and caseloads by 60%. 

These cuts come at a time when domestic violence homicides are rising in the state. As of Oct. 4, 59 domestic homicides have taken place in N.C., up from 47 in 2022. The need for domestic violence services surged across the state and nationwide since the start of the pandemic. 

“Unfortunately, that trend does not seem to have diminished,” Lockwood said. 

From 2021 to 2022, the number of unmet daily requests for domestic violence services more than doubled in North Carolina. 

“As we see services being cut, we can guarantee more homicides are gonna take place, lives are gonna be lost,” said Talley. 

On top of those funding losses, Durham Crisis Response Center recently lost a competitive grant administered by the N.C. Governor’s Crime Commission. 

This grant funded an Immigrant Services Program, LGBTQ+ services and veterans outreach services. Ten staff members have been laid off due to these cuts, including the center’s LGBTQ coordinator, Talley said. The center also had to disable its 24-hour Spanish hotline, which received over 500 calls last year. The center is taking steps to try and compensate for these losses, he said. For example, it has hired more bilingual staff to serve Spanish-speaking callers while the hotline is out of commission. 

“While our staff is willing to do it, we’re just adding more tasks to the ever-depleting employees,” Talley said. 

The North Carolina legislature has made efforts to fill funding holes for domestic violence service providers, but the amounts still fall short, Lockwood said. 

The Durham Crisis Response Center’s request will need to be further discussed with the city manager, the full City Council and Board of County Commissioners before any next steps are taken. Meanwhile, several who attended the Oct. 4 meeting voiced their concern for the organization.

“It’s a conversation we need to have to take care of the people that really, truly, need our help,” said Brenda Howerton, chair of the Board of Commissioners. 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a previous error in Kathleen Lockwood’s title. 


Audrey Patterson