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Counseling center for abuse closes

Six lose jobs at center that served 600 clients each year for violence and substance abuse

Posted: Friday, June 20, 2003

Tongass Community Counseling Center, which has served the general public and people referred by courts for the treatment of violence and substance abuse, will close at the end of the month, it announced Thursday.

Tongass, which opened about 21 years ago, employed six people and served about 600 clients a year, officials said.

The nonprofit center will close because it didn't receive a state grant, worth about $70,000 in past years, for a program that counsels batterers, many of whom were convicted of domestic-violence crimes. The batterers collectively pay about $45,000 a year in fees for their counseling, as well.

The state general-fund allocation for the grants in the upcoming fiscal year was reduced to $200,000 from $320,000 this year. The grants are allocated by the seven-member Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in a competitive process, said acting Executive Director Cathy Satterfield.

Programs in Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Homer and Palmer were awarded grants. Previous grant awardees in Juneau and Sitka, and new proposals from Anchorage and Valdez, were not funded.

"The request for proposals is a very competitive process, and faced with limited funding the council members review in accordance with the criteria that is outlined in the request for proposals and base their decisions on that," Satterfield said. "It is with regret that Tongass wasn't selected for funding at this time, and I am very sorry it won't continue operating."

The center's board of directors decided Tuesday night that the loss of the state grant made it impossible for Tongass to continue the batterers-intervention program or the center's programs in general counseling and substance abuse, said Executive Director Valerie Kelly.

The grant helped cover office expenses. Moreover, about two-thirds of the people ordered by courts to anti-violence counseling also were required to be counseled for substance abuse at their own expense. Losing the batterers program meant losing some of the fees for the substance-abuse program.

The Tongass center's annual budget was about $300,000. All funds but the batterer-intervention grant and a separate grant to counsel prisoners came from client fees.

The batterers-intervention program served 110 to 120 people a year, Kelly said. Its intent was to hold the offenders accountable for their actions and show them how to make better choices. The program also checked in with the victims, and reported noncompliance with counseling requirements to the courts.

"They are having a mirror held up," Kelly said of the batterers. "They have to work on their relationships and their contribution to their relationships."

"I think there is a need for this program in Juneau," said Saralyn Tabachnick, executive director of AWARE, the shelter and counseling center for battered women and children. "When you look at the whole picture of domestic violence, part of that is holding batterers accountable."

Tongass will refer its clients in general counseling to other counselors. Clients in the substance-abuse program, some of whom were ordered into the program by courts, will be directed to two other local agencies. Counselors are talking about a stop-gap program for the batterers.

The Juneau Alcohol Safety Action Program has referred about 125 people a year - a third of the court-ordered clients it evaluates - to Tongass, said Matt Felix, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Juneau, which runs JASAP.

About 80 percent of misdemeanors and 50 percent of felonies in Juneau are alcohol-related, he said.

"We have heavy caseloads in this town," Felix said. "Any reduction in available services really puts a considerable strain on the whole system. There's going to be a considerable backlog of offenders sitting out there doing nothing despite a court order."

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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