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Dozens protest potential state cuts for DuPage shelter
By Christy Gutowski | Daily Herald Staff

Several dozen people peacefully protest Friday against the possible loss of state funding for the Family Shelter Service in Wheaton along Roosevelt Road. T

 

Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Crystal Gabrielson, 31, of DuPage County, speaks out Friday about how the shelter helped her and others as several dozen people protest against the possible loss of state funding for the Family Shelter Service in Wheaton.

 

Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

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Published: 6/13/2009 12:00 AM

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Four years ago, after suffering months of abuse at a boyfriend's hands, Crystal Gabrielson mustered up the courage to flee the only home she had with her two young sons.

They lived in a Family Shelter Service shelter in Naperville for 2.5 months until the DuPage County woman healed enough emotionally and physically to strike out on her own.

Gabrielson, now a 31-year-old hair stylist, was among dozens of supporters of the Wheaton-based domestic violence victims' advocacy group who Friday staged a peaceful protest decrying state funding cuts.

"I knew I couldn't stay there with him one more minute," said Gabrielson, whose first step was to call the group's hotline. "If I didn't have the shelter to go to, I don't know what I would have done. It could have been the difference between life and death."

Karen Hurley Kuchar, the group's executive director, said Family Shelter Service will lose about half, or $400,000, of its annual state grant with the proposed Illinois budget.

The advocacy group provides about 2,000 DuPage County women and their children each year with a variety of services. They include emergency shelter at one of its three sites; hotline, counseling and court help with everything from filling out protective orders to sitting beside a victim in court.

Kuchar said Family Shelter Service will be forced to close its Glen Ellyn shelter, which has 13 beds, as well as cut staff who work the hotline and provide counseling. Kuchar said the group, in existence for 32 years, already made cuts last year after losing some of its private funding. It operates on a $2.4 million annual budget.

"We addressed our own economic crisis by reorganizing and operating as lean as possible," Kuchar said. "There's no place else to cut. We've got people's lives at stake. We can't afford to wait and see what (the state) is going to do."

The deficit-ridden state budget includes massive cuts to Illinois' human service agencies. State lawmakers said they hope to find a workable solution before the budget's July 1 start.

"We think there are many things to look at, in terms of cutting, before (Gov. Patrick Quinn) dips into these social service agencies," said state Sen. John Millner, a Carol Stream Republican. "I don't agree with it and I think it's wrong."

Gabrielson said she can't imagine where she and her boys would be today without the assistance. Beside providing shelter and emotional support, her counselor went with her to the police station to file a report and, later, to court appearances for two years until her ex-boyfriend was convicted and sentenced.

"I would not be as empowered as I am now without these people," she said. "They made be feel like a warrior, not a victim."