Council Mulls Funding for Domestic Violence, Other Social Services

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger presents the 2020 budget outlook for health and human services to City Council.

In the first of a series of budget review sessions for City Council members, City staff broke down the proposed spending for initiatives related to improving the quality of life for vulnerable families and children.

The proposed 2020 budget includes $1 million additional funding for domestic violence awareness and supporting nonprofits, another $1 million to combat homelessness, $600,000 to help systems deliver specialized care for traumatized children, and $333,000 to continue funding the City’s Migrant Resource Center downtown.

“I appreciate the fact that they are [being discussed first],” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Tuesday at the briefing. “[That] shows our priorities.”

Most Council members were receptive to the funding proposals, but Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) took issue with increased funding for health and human services departments, saying they ought to find ways of saving money. 

Council is slated to vote on the budget Sept. 12. Before then, it will review portions of the budget in seven more meetings. SASpeakUp, the City’s public engagement arm, will take input from the community through a survey and via a “Telephone Town Hall” at which residents can call in to share their views and ask questions. Click here to view the schedule.

The issue of domestic violence was highlighted during the recent mayoral election when then-Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6) was the subject of domestic violence allegations. He was not arrested or charged and denied the allegations.

Before the election, Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Manny Pelaez (D8) requested more funding for education, response, and prevention strategies for intimate partner violence. Bexar County has the highest family violence homicide rate for women in Texas.

Metro Health’s domestic violence programs and services will receive an additional $500,000 next year and delegate agencies, nonprofits whose work aligns with the City’s service goals, will receive an additional $500,000 in the proposed budget.

City staff is working on a comprehensive domestic violence plan that will be presented to Council on Oct. 30, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger told Council.

The plan will include data analysis on intimate partner violence, metrics the City plans to use to measure accomplishments, an analysis of what programs or services are missing, a five-year plan that focuses on prevention, and a 2020 work plan.

Five stakeholder subcommittees that comprise the joint domestic violence task force between the City and County will set priorities to address.

“Each of those subcommittees will look at the comprehensive domestic violence plan, look at the gaps that were identified in that plan, and say: ‘We are going to own these two things from the plan for fiscal year 2020,'” Bridger said.

Most of the other delegate agencies that the City provides funding for this year will receive the same amount of funding, except for increases to grant funding to assist residents living with AIDS.

The approximately $1 million for homelessness initiatives comes from a 50-cent tax increase for tickets for San Antonio River barge rides and Tower of the Americas tickets.

Of that, $560,000 is slated to expand support for homeless services across the community and $500,000 to expand operations of Haven for Hope, the city’s homeless shelter that also provides services to the homeless population.

Trauma-informed care

A proposed $600,000 will be used to form an institute led by the University Health System that will be the only one in Texas to train and prepare organizations to become certified in delivering care to traumatized children, Bridger said.

Agencies working in childcare, education, faith-based initiatives, juvenile justice, mental health, and other sectors will understand how to identify and support kids with trauma in their past.

When a child experiences abuse or neglect, Bridger said, those experiences can impact that person for the rest of their lives. “They cause toxic stress,” she said, “and we know that toxic stress adversely affects the developing brain so that it develops around fear rather than planning for the future.”

Such trauma and stress negatively impacts physical health into adulthood.

“These adults are at much higher risk for at least seven out of the top 10 leading causes of death here in the United States,” she said, such as heart disease.

The meeting ended after 5 p.m., when several Council members had to leave. The discussion will continue Wednesday afternoon before Council considers the Planning and Neighborhood and Housing Services departments’ budgets.

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