Rock Hill center for domestic violence victims works to overcome financial troubles

adouglas@heraldonline.comOctober 22, 2013 

  • Want to help? Safe Passage serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in York, Chester, Lancaster and Union counties. The group’s offices and shelter are in Rock Hill. Services are provided through counseling, a 24-hour hotline, support groups, sexual trauma hospital accompaniment and forensic interviews. Donations can be made online through www.safepassagesc.org or by mail to Safe Passage, P.O. Box 11458, Rock Hill, SC 29731. For information and to reach the executive director, call 803-329-3336.

— Planned domestic violence awareness month activities and fundraisers are helping the area’s only center for domestic violence and sexual assault victims rebound from financial troubles, its director says.

Still, more community help is needed for Safe Passage of Rock Hill to continue offering its services without continued strain on its finances, Jada Charley said.

Charley was hired as executive director for the nonprofit shelter and counseling center in the spring. Soon after, she learned of Safe Passage’s dire financial situation, she said. One possible solution Charley and Safe Passage’s board members have identified is selling the organization’s administrative and shelter buildings.

The group has a pending offer with the York County Council after asking officials this month to look into purchasing its buildings as a way to help. Safe Passage owns two buildings in Rock Hill but can’t use its existing grant money to pay the mortgages.

It would help the organization tremendously, Charley says, to rent the buildings from someone else at the same rate it pays now instead of making mortgage payments to its lender, Bank of America. Safe Passage can use many of its grant dollars to pay rent but not mortgage payments.

The majority of available grants won’t allow Safe Passage to use the money for mortgage payments, Charley said, because government-issued grants for nonprofits are designed to keep the benefiting organization from becoming “asset-rich.” If a nonprofit organization used government money for mortgage payments, the organization would eventually own the property and could sell it for a profit, which is not allowed, Charley said.

Safe Passage tried unsuccessfully in August to convince Rock Hill City Council members to buy its buildings for $500,000. The group’s office building is on Oakland Avenue; the shelter location is undisclosed for the safety of women and children who live there. The properties are valued at about $947,000 total.

Charley wants her organization to recoup from a potential sale only what Safe Passage owes on the buildings and enough money to pay down a lien on the assets. The Internal Revenue Service lien comes from penalties and charges from unpaid payroll taxes and the organization not filing tax returns for two years, which board members say they were unaware of until recently, after Safe Passage’s former director left.

Charley hoped Rock Hill officials would step in to help, she said, because the city would be able to buy Safe Passage’s property for half of its value. But city officials told Charley that Rock Hill would not be able to buy the property or contribute money for the organization’s operating budget.

She then took the same request to York County officials, explaining that Safe Passage has suffered about a 20 percent drop-off of donations since 2007. During that time, the group has seen demand for its victims services grow.

York County already contributes $20,000 annually to Safe Passage – less than 3 percent of the organization’s operating budget.

Safe Passage may soon close on the sale of its former Lancaster domestic violence shelter on East Arch Street. Money from the Lancaster property sale will be used to pay off the group’s mortgage on the former shelter, Charley said.

If York County buys Safe Passage’s two Rock Hill buildings, Charley says the group will have grants to pay the monthly rent.

Nonprofits always have inherent risks that come with grant money, she said, but she believes the group is reliable. And she and others in York County say that Safe Passage is too valuable a service to lose.

One of the organization’s biggest champions is 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett. In charge of prosecuting many of the criminals accused of sexual assaults and domestic violence, Brackett has said he can’t imagine how York County could handle those situations without Safe Passage.

And law enforcement officials often applaud Safe Passage for its work in educating and helping residents – those who have been victimized and those who haven’t – to help break the cycle of domestic violence and sexual assault in the local area.

York County Councilman Bump Roddey has also been a vocal supporter for Safe Passage. He said in August that he hopes the county will find a way to meet Charley’s request to buy the organization’s buildings and rent them back to the group.

Last week, Charley said she hasn’t heard back from York County about her offer.

But with October being domestic violence awareness month, she said, Safe Passage has seen more support recently from community members.

Safe Passage will host a candlelight vigil Thursday at Glencairn Garden in Rock Hill. The group will meet with participants at Safe Passage’s office at 104 Oakland Ave. and walk to Glencairn.

In addition, the group held several events and a fundraiser earlier this month to recognize domestic violence awareness month.

York County has the highest ex-spouse violence victimization rate in South Carolina and the highest number of victims of domestic intimidation. Chester County is also among the worst in the state in similar categories of domestic violence frequency.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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