At the very end of a long legislative session, Oregon lawmakers acknowledged the growing problems of domestic violence and sexual abuse in the state. They allocated twice as much funding as in the previous two years for prevention and services for survivors.
It is part of a larger public safety reform effort to shift state dollars away from expanding prisons and into community services that work to prevent crime and help victims.
Rep. Jen Williamson (D-Portland, Dist. 36), co-chair of the Ways and Means Committee Public Safety Subcommittee, said $4 million a year will now be spent on new shelter beds and related services.
"When women leave an abusive situation, it is such a tenuous and scary time that, if we can get them and their children into a safe place, we'll be keeping people from being homeless. I actually think we'll be saving lives," Williamson said.
The money will be distributed as soon as possible, she added. The funding was part of what is often called the "Christmas tree bill" -- a budget bill at the end of the session, where general fund dollars not otherwise spoken for are divvied up for a variety of priorities.
Previously, domestic and sexual violence prevention efforts had only been funded at about 13 percent of what the shelter organizations said they would need just to meet the current emergency shelter requests in the state.
Therefore, doubling it still leaves a shortfall. However, it's a start, said Rep. Greg Matthews (D-Gresham, Dist. 50), a member of the Joint Committee on Public Safety.
"What we'll start seeing is a change in the trends, and we will be able to start diverting more dollars into community programs," Matthews said. "It's not as big or as grandiose as anybody thought it might be. But in the end, it will have a big impact - and I think it'll be for the positive."
Shelter operators were willing to be part of the give-and-take on public safety reforms, which got heated at times in this year's Legislature, he said, adding that he is convinced they will use the money effectively.
Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service provided this report.