‘Your Silence Will Not Protect You’

Women’s Coalition of St. Croix

On March 7, 2018, the non-profit organizations that receive “Miscellaneous” funding through the VI Department of Human Services received an email stating that we would not be receiving payment for Fiscal Year 2018, nor would we be receiving our allotment from the fourth quarter of 2017. These non-profits that are being slashed include (but are not limited to) the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, The Village – Virgin Islands Partners for Recovery, VIVA for Children (formally CASA) and the Men’s Coalition of the VI. Specifically, the email read:  

 “Unfortunately, at this moment, Office of Management and Budget has informed our department that they are unable to provide legislative funding to your organization and will continue to monitor the revenue and respond accordingly.”

 I had to reread the email several times to shake off my disbelief. Certainly, our government wasn’t telling agencies to do without funding for the entire year — agencies that are dedicated to and relied upon to provide life-saving services to the most vulnerable in our community?

But, indeed, that is what the email said. And I am left thinking, where are our priorities, as a government, as a community? Will we stand by and allow services to be cut for abused and neglected children, disabled adults, battered women, the homeless, people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and people reeling from the hurricanes? 

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 Many of the organizations affected by this decision are now forced to figure out a way to continue to serve our community. We are driven by our agency missions, and we have had to diversify our funding because we have come to learn that government funding is often delayed and unreliable.  But some agencies will be forced to close their doors, and others will have to cut staffing and essential services. Do we really want to live in a community that doesn’t have a drug treatment facility or an orphanage or a domestic violence shelter? I certainly don’t.

 The human services non-profits are on the front lines every day, providing services that the government can’t or won’t provide. Our agencies never stopped providing services during the storms; we operated shelters and opened our offices within days of the storms in order to provide supplies, counseling and other relief to our community. We continue to be the leaders in developing long-term strategies and processes for our recovery, serving on multiple task forces and committees dedicated to the rebuilding and resiliency of our islands. Our work, as non-profit organizations, has worth and is vital to ensuring a positive quality of life in our communities.

 So, no, I won’t stand by and let services be cut for the most vulnerable in our community. The work that we do is not “miscellaneous;” it is critical and essential.  We need these services now, every single day!  Are we really going to allow the amazing, life-saving work of the human services non-profit sector be dismissed and disrespected with an email (an email!)? This is unacceptable!  

 I am reminded of a quote from one of the fierce founders of the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, the great warrior poet and activist Audrey Lorde.  She said, “Your silence will not protect you.”  So, I will use my voice to be heard, I will use my voice to speak the truth, and I will use my voice to demand action and change.  The U.S. Virgin Islands government must immediately reinstate Fiscal Year 2017 and 2018 funding! Lives depend on it, and Virgin Islanders deserve it. Will you join me in raising your voice to demand the same?

 Editor’s note: Carolyn Forno is the assistant director of the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix.

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