Less aid heading to westside

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comJuly 17, 2013 

Although services for domestic violence victims in Merced continue to be bolstered by a three-year grant, aid on the county's westside is shrinking, according to victims' advocates.

Mariposa-based Mountain Crisis Services awarded the Merced Police Department a $35,000 grant this month. The grant money is the tail end of a three-year program meant to open up communication and cooperation among the victim advocates and law enforcement.

Mountain Crisis, which oversees Valley Crisis Center in Merced, received a $450,000 grant through California Emergency Management Agency in 2011.

Since then, the three-year grant has been shared by Valley Crisis and Merced police, providing a stream of funding to assist victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in the city.

That money is meant to lay the groundwork for a continuing relationship between advocates and Merced police, said Alison Tudor, the interim program director for Valley Crisis Center.

The $35,000 Merced police received from Mountain Crisis pays for a portion of a domestic violence detective's time. Valley Crisis also has an advocate who works with Merced police to respond when situations arise.

"We're kind of there at the very beginning," Tudor said.

The advocate is available to intervene around the clock, guide victims through court proceedings and provide training, among other duties.

Lt. Tom Trindad said the advocate meets the personal needs of victims in an emotional situation, which frees up officers and detectives for other jobs. "Unfortunately, a lot of times, the abuser has the ability to cut that person off from family support," Trindad said.

On the other side of Merced County, a lack of funding will shrink office hours in Los Banos.

Valley Crisis Center's Los Banos office will reduce its services to two days a week beginning Monday. That's one day fewer in weekly offerings.

The new office hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday.

Tudor called fewer hours in Los Banos "a minor setback," and said funding will eventually come from another source. "There's always going to be lean years, and there's years with plenty," Tudor said.

A $4,500 assist from United Way Merced County allowed the Los Banos center to expand to three days last year. Tudor said that money was reduced, but United Way remains supportive of Valley Crisis.

"We're always thankful for what funding that United Way gives us," she said.

Reina Nino, a program coordinator in Los Banos, said shrinking services to two days would have the greatest effect on legal services, such as attaining emergency restraining orders.

Expanding Valley Crisis' westside hours remains a priority, officials said. "Our goal is to be open five days a week," Nino said.

Valley Crisis has served Los Banos since 2009. It began renting its location in 2010. The advocate group filled the hole left in 2008 by A Woman's Place, which closed its Merced and Los Banos offices amid financial problems.

For more on Valley Crisis Center, call (209) 725-7900.

Valley Crisis offers a 24-hour crisis hot line at (209) 722-4357.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or by email at tmiller@merced sunstar.com.

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