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Domestic Violence Program, Playhouse In The Park Wonder Why They Were Left Out Of Proposed Budget

City of Cincinnati
DIVERT Director Wayne Williams (seated at podium) speaks to council members at the first public hearing for the fiscal year 2022 budget.

A program that connects domestic violence survivors with assistance is asking Cincinnati council for another round of funding in the next fiscal year budget. The Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team, known as DIVERT, is a program through the nonprofit organization Women Helping Women.

DIVERT sends advocates with police to the scene of domestic violence incidents. Advocates offer emergency assistance and help people make safety plans.

Cincinnati council approved $250,000 for DIVERT in the fiscal year 2021 budget, which ends June 30. The proposed fiscal year 2022 budget from the city manager and mayor doesn't include any funding for the program.

DIVERT director Wayne Williams spoke at the first budget public hearing Thursday night.

"You saw the urgency to increase services last year — what changed?," Williams said. "I can tell you domestic violence did not decrease; our services did not decrease; funding for DIVERT cannot decrease."

Williams asked for $250,000 in the budget, the same amount as last year.

DIVERT works in all five Cincinnati Police Department districts, as well as in Norwood, Cheviot, Green Township and Delhi Township. The program is set to expand into Mount Healthy, St. Bernard, Lincoln Heights, Greenhills and Forest Park.

Kristin Shrimplin, president and CEO of Women Helping Women, says it makes no sense to divest this program after the pandemic exacerbated domestic violence.

"We're not asking you to carry the financial load alone, we're asking you to continue to show up and do your part," Shrimplin said. "We have donors, we have foundations, we have the state; we need the city because we serve the city."

Last year was the deadliest for domestic violence homicides in Cincinnati in two decades. Women Helping Women says at least 16 women were killed, but the number could be as high as 20. Williams says 69% of the 3,000 women who have been helped so far are people of color.

Budget and Finance Committee Chair David Mann asked city administration to put together an explanation for why DIVERT was left out of the recommended budget.

Council Member Chris Seelbach says he's committed to getting the $250,000 for DIVERT in the budget.

Credit Courtesy of Playhouse in the Park
A rendering of the new space for Playhouse in the Park.

A New Home For Playhouse In The Park

Another budget item Seelbach is championing is half a million dollars for a new facility for Playhouse in the Park – a city-owned building.

Blake Robison, artistic director of Playhouse in the Park, says they've raised all but about $3 million needed for the $50 million project, which breaks ground Saturday in Mt. Adams.

"We've asked for $500,000 in the city's capital budget and we were disappointed when the mayor did not include this project in it," Robison said. "You have the opportunity to fix that."

The $47 million raised so far includes private gifts, corporate funding, Playhouse budget reserves, and $2.2 million from the state capital budget.

"They've done their part," Robison said. "It's time for the city to invest in its own building and help us finish this thing."

City Manager Paula Boggs Muething says the proposed operating budget prioritizes public safety and fiscal stability.

Two more public hearings on the budget are scheduled for June 8 and June 9 at 5 p.m. The hearings will be held in council chambers at City Hall – you can sign up to speak in-person just before the meeting begins. The hearings will also be streamed on CitiCable, and you can sign up to give public comment virtually by registering online before 9 a.m. the day of the hearing.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.