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'Beacon' for victims of domestic violence likely to close

TAMPA — The head of the Family Justice Center in Hills­borough County says her agency likely will close by the end of the week after a request for emergency funding was not met by county commissioners Wednesday.

For nearly a decade, the nonprofit has served as sort of a one-stop shop for victims of domestic violence seeking help — from assisting people with restraining orders to getting them appointments with counselors.

"What happens is it goes back to the old way, where they will have to go to all those different places to get what they need," said Family Justice Center executive director Nikki Daniels. "What won't be there is the one place."

Daniels and some of her supporters appealed last month to county commissioners for a $150,000 infusion to get them through the fiscal year, which ends in September. Commissioners agreed to spend 60 days reviewing the request to ensure the money would be well spent.

Some of those same people returned to the commission Wednesday to say 60 days would be too late. Daniels said afterward she has already laid off half of her staff and without the money would be forced to lay off the rest and begin auctioning furniture by Friday.

Supporters told commissioners of the need for the agency to provide help to people who are at their most vulnerable and said appeals for private donations have come up short.

"We are a beacon, we are a lighthouse in a dark world of domestic violence," said Michael Neely, a board member and volunteer chaplain.

The Family Justice Center opened in 2006 with $1.1 million in federal grant startup money. Costs to keep it going were subsequently shifted to the Children's Board of Hillsborough County.

The group operated on a $950,000 budget, with about $600,000 coming from the Children's Board as of last year, Daniels said. But last year, as part of a reorganization, the Children's Board started focusing more on services to young children. As a result, money for the Family Justice Center was halved to about $300,000.

Daniels said her group sought and secured about $150,000 in private donations, which was not enough to bridge the gap.

Commissioners and county staff said they still want to see a financial analysis on the agency's fiscal health, as well as a review of whether or not its services are replicated by others. County staff members said they are working to expedite that review.

The Family Justice Center has helped 11,000 families since it opened. It has operated from the former Floriland Mall on North Florida Avenue, where it provides space to several other nonprofit groups that help domestic violence victims.

Contact Bill Varian at varian@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3387.

'Beacon' for victims of domestic violence likely to close 08/07/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 11:39pm]

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