BROOKSVILLE — She's 15 and has on bright pink sneakers.
For the past few weeks, she's been living at the New Beginnings Youth Shelter in Brooksville. It finally got so bad at home that she had to leave.
The girl says her parents drink too much. Each time she has tried to tell them, no one listens. So she left behind her 10-year-old sister to escape the madness.
"If I wasn't here, I would have ran," she said, looking down at her shoes. "I wasn't going to live like that anymore. All the fighting and things breaking was too much. I didn't care where I went."
Since 2001, New Beginnings has been a haven for families in crisis. The shelter not only provides a place for runaways and at-risk youth to live with 24-hour supervision, but also helps families sort through the issues that brought them to their breaking point.
The yellow building, made to look like a house, sits behind the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. With 18 beds, it is the only shelter for young people in Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties. It exists to help kids and their families on the front end, before problems escalate and they get stuck in state systems that only cost more in the long run.
The state Department of Juvenile Justice provides funding for 75 percent of New Beginnings' budget. The shelter is responsible for raising the rest.
As budget cuts come down the line from the state and county, New Beginnings and other social service agencies are bracing for reductions that could have a huge impact on what they provide.
In Hernando, the county will consider wiping out $100,000 in matching grant money that helped the shelter and other providers bring nearly $500,000 back into the community this fiscal year.
Officials warn that these cuts could cost taxpayers and families in crisis much more in the end.
According to Mark Phillips, who oversees shelter services, Department of Juvenile Justice officials have sent word of a 4 percent decrease in funds for New Beginnings' $900,000 annual budget during the final quarter of the 2007-08 fiscal year.
That would mean four frozen positions, including doing without a nurse on staff to help dole out the increasing medications for the estimated 300 to 400 children each year who come through the shelter.
The cut would also lead to a 3 percent decrease in services delivered to families outside the shelter.
During the next fiscal year, another 6 percent cut in funding is expected, which would equal a 17 percent reduction in services.
For families like that of the 15-year-old with pink sneakers, that means the possibility of her parents not getting the help they need. The same goes for counseling for the 10-year-old still at home.
And who knows how long the young woman would have to stay at the shelter, or end up being referred to the Department of Children and Families, said Jean Rags, Hernando's health and human services director.
"The sooner we can get these children back into a stable household, the lower our costs are going to be," Rags said. "For every dollar we put into prevention, we're saving $4 on the other end."
Cuts that providers such as New Beginnings receive from the state aren't made up by local governmental bodies, either, Rags said.
Meanwhile, transportation, food and staffing costs will continue to rise.
Local fundraising efforts can help make up some of the deficit. The annual Boots and Pearls benefit, slated for this summer, raised $27,000 for the Hernando shelter last year.
But it won't totally replace the losses, including matching grant funds from the county's general revenue.
Rags said she recently learned about the proposed $100,000 cut for 2009 during a meeting with the budget office. Since 2003, the county has used the money to help groups like the shelter, Arc Nature Coast, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Dawn Center rake in additional grant dollars.
With $10,000 from the county, New Beginnings received $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for runaway and homeless youth this year. Big Brothers Big Sisters used $20,400 from the county fund to receive a $204,000 grant from the national Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. The Health Department received $112,900 in federal funds to target the under-insured with $48,700 from the county.
In total, by spending $79,100 this fiscal year, the county got back $416,900, Rags said. And there have been similar returns in previous years.
"People need to know that this is what's coming down the line," she said, "and what it means for everyone."
Back at New Beginnings, Phillips said that things aren't yet to the point where kids are feeling the crunch. Someone on the staff has worked as a nurse and is being trained to hand out medications. They will figure out other ways to make ends meet.
As for the 15-year-old with the pink sneakers, she has her sights set on the future. For the first time in four years, she said, she's in a stable place where people don't drink too much and scream.
She's figured out a class schedule for next year that includes courses in psychology and sociology.
"Hopefully, that's what I'll study in college," she said. "I love figuring out why people do what they do."
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432.