Julian Center blames shortfall for counseling center closure

Indiana’s largest domestic violence shelter plans to shut the doors of its 2-year-old counseling center in October.

The Julian Center, citing budget shortfalls, has decided to close its Sara I. and Albert G. Reuben Counseling Center on the near-north side. The move will affect 179 patients, most of whom are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. Future counseling will only be provided to women and children who live in the shelter or transitional housing at the Julian Center.

Two of the current counselors will continue working for the organization. The remaining eleven employees of the center, including its clinical director, will lose their jobs. The Reuben Counseling Center was opened at 2011 N. Meridian St. just two years ago after a $750,000 donation from local attorney Lawrence Reuben, in memory of his parents.

Although the organization plans to keep the building, the board is unsure how it will use it in the future.

The decision comes after a change in leadership at the Julian Center and then a significant decrease in public support, according to the organization’s annual reports. In 2011, the last year that attorney Ann DeLaney headed the organization, more than $1.9 million in public donations were collected, not including an additional $40,000 raised through a capital campaign. In 2012, donations totaled only $722,145, a 62-percent decrease.

Julian officials say closing the counseling center is necessary for the organization to stay afloat long term. Others in the domestic violence treatment community say they are deeply concerned about the consequences of leaving victims without counsel.

“The landscape of services available is limited,” said Michael Hurst, executive director of Legacy House, a violence counseling center at 2505 N. Arlington Ave. “And this is already an underserved population. The fewer the service providers, the more likely it is that these victims will never access services.”

All 179 clients of the counseling center have received a list of 13 other facilities. The list includes mental health hospitals, psychiatry departments and for-profit corporations. While counselors are available to assist patients with finding a new treatment center, it is up to the patient to make the switch.

DeLaney, who served as director of the Julian Center for 15 years, said existing counseling programs are not only more expensive, but are likely already at maximum capacity.

“The idea that this clientele can be absorbed without a hiccup is unrealistic,” DeLaney said. “The Julian Center is the institution with the expertise and experience that can be provided at effective costs. Now, those needs will go unmet.”

Last year was the first time in four years that the Julian Center’s expenses, which totaled $4,375,666, exceeded its revenue, $4,031,059. The board cut 10 percent of the organization's staff the same year.

The counseling center, which cost $512,000 to run last year, accounts for around 12 percent of Julian Center's service budget.

Pam Matthews, who took the helm of the board in August 2012, said that when a strategic planning committee began looking to abate the financial problems, the counseling center stood out.

“We started thinking maybe we are too broad in services we were offering,” Matthews said. “That’s when we started talking about the counseling center. It does not sustain itself from a funding standpoint.”

That’s because the fees charged for counseling are not nearly enough to cover the counselors’ salaries. Many individuals receiving treatment were paying as little as $8 an hour.

Much of the counseling center’s support came from private donors like Reuben's. But one-time donations do not lead to financial stability, said Melinda Mains, director of development and communication. “Someone says, ‘I can give you this money this year,’ and that is wonderful,” Mains said. “But if we think about the long-term sustainability of the agency, the money needs to be there year after year.”

Meanwhile, government support has been declining on both the federal and state levels. Two of the largest public funding sources the Julian Center receives, the Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment grant and Violence Against Women Act grant, have shrunk by 10 percent since 2011, from a combined $122,671 to $109,780 .

“Sequestration on the federal level has had a significant impact locally,” said Laura Berry, president of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Shelters across the state are having to lay off staff and discontinue programs to be able to support and maintain their crisis work.”

The announcement of the counseling center’s closure coincided with a statement of the Julian Center’s “new strategic plan.” The organization is adopting a model of trauma-informed care, where the core commitment is to survivors of domestic violence. Matthews said these decisions resulted from 18 months of deliberation.

During that time, seven of the 15 board members retired or resigned. Melissa Pershing, the executive director who replaced DeLaney, also resigned. Jessica White, a consultant who had been working with the Julian Center board for eight months, was chosen as interim executive director.

White recognized that although the organization historically prioritized counseling for patients outside its shelter, the availability of counseling in the community has changed.

“When the Julian Center first started, it was the only place providing counseling to victims of domestic violence,” White said. “Today, we have partnerships with many counseling facilities that we feel confident our clients can receive good care from.”

But there are serious drawbacks to changing counselors for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Hurst, director of Legacy House, said many struggle to find and pay for transportation to the appointment or child care during the counseling session. But the greatest difficulty, he said, is trust.

“When an individual has been traumatized by violence, that’s baggage they carry until it can be unpacked by somebody,” Hurst said. “It only happens when they develop a trusting relationship with a counselor. When they lose that counselor, they almost have to start all over.”

Although Legacy House’s six counselors already have full caseloads of patients, Hurst said they will try to accommodate as many of the Julian Center’s former clients as possible.

“The healthier these women are as individuals, the healthier we are as a community,” Hurst said.

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