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State budget restrains Freedom House

Local domestic violence shelter/services searches for assistance to stay open

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016 4:30 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016 5:09 p.m. CDT
(BCR photo/Goldie Rapp)
Freedom House Founder Nedda Simon (right) and current Freedom House Executive Director Michael Zerneck pose for a photo outside the shelter in Princeton. Since 1983, Freedom House has assisted clients embarking on a better life journey. But now during a time of severe budget cutbacks and ongoing fiscal uncertainty, Freedom House is turning to the community for help in continuing its mission.

PRINCETON — Since 1983, Freedom House has offered a safe haven for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. The agency has served thousands of women and children at their most vulnerable state and prides itself on the ability to provide compassionate, confidential, free services to those in need.

In the midst of a major state budget crisis, though, the agency is turning to the communities it serves and asking for financial assistance to help keep its mission alive.

At Freedom House, 85 percent of the budget is reliant upon state and federal dollars. But since the start of the budget impasse in 2015, the agency has fell victim to chronically-delayed payments and severe funding cuts for services.

Michael Zerneck, executive director of Freedom House, said the current Illinois stopgap budget that expires Dec. 31 does not include funding for domestic violence shelters, and there is still no budget beginning Jan. 1.

“(We) are in great need of cash donations from the communities we serve in order to keep providing essential services to every victim of domestic and sexual violence,” he said.

Freedom House received its last payment from the state in August. According to Zerneck, those funds were 160 days past due from the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

“We are vigilant in continually examining and eliminating any expense that is not absolutely necessary for providing direct services to our clients,” he said.

While Freedom House hasn’t yet had to reduce services, the agency has been forced to maintain its workload on a limited budget, which has created hardships for both clients and employees.

Planning for the future is comparable to navigating through fog, Zerneck said. Also expanding services to meet the needs of clients has become a challenge, and in the midst of cuts and uncertainty, maintaining employee moral is tough.

“Retaining excellent employees is becoming more and more difficult,” he said.

Right now, Freedom House is pressuring state legislature with coalitions and other victim advocacy groups to help restore funding. The agency is also relying on financial assistance from community dollars, grantors and donors.

Despite the difficult financial times, Zerneck is committed to keeping the doors open as long as possible for the victims in need.

“The board and I and the staff and volunteers will not let Nedda’s dream die,” he said, referring to Freedom House founder Nedda Simon.

What does Freedom House do, and how was it started?

Freedom House provides assistance for the victims of domestic and sexual violence. The agency not only provides shelter, but also case management, safety planning, domestic violence education, parenting and parental support, life skills training and budgeting.

While the shelter is located in Princeton, Freedom House serves victims all throughout Bureau, Henry, Marshall, Putnam and Stark counties. They provide a 24/7 crisis hot line, both emergency and transitional shelters, medical and legal advocacy and counseling for adults, children, families and groups.

Freedom House also provides prevention and awareness education to kindergarten through 12th-grade students and volunteer and professional training for direct service volunteers.

Nedda Simon founded Freedom House in 1983 after recognizing the need for a safe home for area victims of domestic abuse. She opened the first shelter out of a home in Wyanet. Her first clients were a mother with five children.

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