Hillsdale’s City Council voted unanimously to renew its contract with Domestic Harmony at Monday night’s meeting, but not without concerns being raised about Hillsdale County contributing its fair share to the organization.
Domestic Harmony is a local domestic violence shelter that provides housing, counseling, and legal counseling to Michigan residents in need. All services provided by the shelter are free and confidential.
One point of contention during the discussion surrounding the renewal of the contract is the responsibility of other communities to assist in supporting the funding of the service.
“I think the county needs to step up and sharpen their pencils and they need to give us funding. It is a service for everybody, not just the city but the county and they have an obligation to support it,” Councilman Greg Stuchell said.
Domestic Harmony has provided service to Hillsdale County for 41 years. This is the 18th year that the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has had a contract with Hillsdale’s City Council.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter had a noticeable increase in need from the Hillsdale County community, namely in the number of crises and information calls to the shelter’s hotline.
“In the fiscal year 2019 we were in the 300 – 400 mark and now we’re at 792,” Executive Director Hannah Jordan said. “The other thing that increased this year was personal protection orders. I believe we did 36 personal protection orders in the fiscal year 2019 and we did 63 last year.”
In addition, Domestic Harmony provided safe shelter for 37 adults and 20 children as well as served 127 adults and six children for supportive counseling during 2020, according to Jordan.
While Domestic Harmony gets funding from local grants and fundraising as well as federal and state funding, it also relies heavily on service contracts with the city of Hillsdale.
Domestic Harmony’s data shows domestic violence is affecting children in the community.
Jordan said that of the 146 students in local schools that took the survey, 27% of students saw domestic violence in their homes, 41% have witnessed teen dating violence and 20% said they were victims of teen dating violence.
Last year the service contract passed on a 7 – 1 vote, with Councilman Ray Briner being the no vote in an effort to send a message to other municipalities in the area to help out in funding Domestic Harmony.
The shelter addressed this issue during its 2020 fundraising cycle.
“We took that concern and the board members and I went to as many township meetings and city meetings as we could and we were able to increase the other municipality service contracts by 26% last year,” Jordan said.
These efforts were much appreciated by the council.
“I was the no vote last year,” Councilman Briner said. “I am in favor of it this year and I’m glad that other communities have stepped up and provided more funding to you.”
Another concern was Domestic Harmony’s providing service to those in need from across the state.
Jordan addressed these concerns and said that due to COVID-19 the shelter is only serving residents of Hillsdale County. However, the shelter always gives preference towards Hillsdale County residents, according to Jordan.
“The reason why we are adamant about that is for this reason right here, Jordan said. “You have a service contract with us.” She also said that because the program was designed with Hillsdale residents in mind, it does a better service to those residents.
“We could easily fill up through Jackson, from Jackson County residents. I would say we probably get three or more calls a week from their shelter over in Jackson because they are full. And it’s just really doing a disservice to people from out of town,” Jordan said. “Hillsdale’s a lot different than Detroit and people don’t realize that. And we want to be the best that we can be in the service that we provide. If you don’t have transportation and you are from Detroit, you’re not going to experience quite the same thing that you could over there.”
Mayor Stockford addressed the importance of Domestic Harmony to Hillsdale right before the service contract went to the vote.
“I’ll say for the first couple years I was on the council I voted against the contract because I feel like it’s kind of murky waters as far as what government could and should do,” Stockford said. “But actually after having conversations with our police chief I came to a much better understanding of how our police force utilizes Domestic Harmony and what could possibly happen if Domestic Harmony wasn’t available: a lot of battered women and children who would end up in probably county jail or just on the street with nowhere to go.”