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Posted May 2, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Harmony Place financial struggles continue

By Alex Bridges

FRONT ROYAL -- A shelter for domestic violence victims continues to struggle financially as the nonprofit agency tries to find a new home.

Front Royal-based Harmony Place began a campaign to raise $150,000 that Executive Director Melissa DeDomenico-Payne said Thursday would help the organization keep its financial footing while they try to sell their building and wait for grant money.

The agency serves hundreds of people each year through its 24-hour hotline, advocacy and child-abuse programs, emergency shelter and other programs.

But Harmony Place has endured recent cuts in funding that led to staff layoffs.The shelter was forced to shut down its thrift store, Second Chance, several months ago.

As with other similar organizations, Harmony Place receives "reimbursement grants," meaning that the agency must spend the money first and then await payment from the granting source.

"We have to wait to pay any bills until we get our grant disbursements ... anywhere from two months to four months after we've already spent the money," DeDomenic-Payne said.

Harmony Place also has requested that the Warren County Board of Supervisors give the agency an advance of $19,000 already allocated in fiscal 2014 budget.

DeDomenico-Payne said the advance would help Harmony Place pay some of its bills so it could then receive grants. However, Harmony Place needs the "Band-aid" sooner than July 1 when the fiscal year begins, she said.

Harmony Place must first secure a buyer for its current location on East Main Street in Front Royal before it can pick another site, DeDomenico-Payne said. Harmony Place needs to find a smaller space now that its operations take up roughly a third of the nearly 18,000-square-foot area it owns. Harmony Place could operate in a space of about half the size or slightly larger, she said.

Until then, the organization expects to spend about $7,000 per month on utility bills and mortgage payments, DeDomenico-Payne said. Harmony Place does not receive grant reimbursements for its mortgage payments.

Harmony Place has seen some interest in its property, but the organization reduced the price in an effort to attract a buyer.

The nonprofit organization began operations in 1980. Harmony Place offers services and programs to men, women and children affected by domestic violence. Services include a 24-hour hotline, emergency shelter, rapid rehousing, crisis intervention, counseling, criminal justice system advocacy, children's psycho-educational activities, advocacy through the health system for victims of sexual violence, assistance with food and supplies and more.

DeDomenico-Payne said people have suggested Harmony Place cut staff to save money, but explained that cutting staff equates to eliminating programs.

Likewise, not all expenses come as expected. Harmony Place spent $20,000 two years ago to fight off an infestation of bed bugs.

Harmony Place and other agencies in the area that provide shelter and received funds for transitional housing suffered a major blow when the federal government changed the focus of its grant programs.

Harmony Place operates on an annual budget of approximately $500,000, said DeDomenico-Payne, about two-thirds of which goes to cover staff salaries and benefits.

The Front Royal agency fell into the same predicament as the Alliance for Shelter in Shenandoah County and other organizations when the federal government shifted its funding to shelters that focused on permanent rather than transitional housing.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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