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YWCA Struggles Without United Way Money


The Long Beach YWCA, which runs the only shelter in the city for battered women, is struggling to survive after a decision by United Way to cut off $220,000 in annual funding.

United Way officials said their action stemmed from the YWCA's inability to account for its spending.

"It was very painful," said Diane S. Tasaka, United Way's director of planning and agency relations, "but they couldn't tell us how they were using the money. The bottom line is that we have a responsibility to our donors."

Local YWCA officials said United Way has been the organization's major source of funding, and that they plan to appeal the decision by June 15.

"I'm not saying it's the end," said Minnie Douglas, president of the Young Women's Christian Assn.'s Board of Directors, "(but) we're having difficulty maintaining the YWCA. . . ." The Long Beach chapter was first established in 1905.

The Women Shelter, the only program currently operated by the YWCA, receives more than half of its funding from United Way, said Marie Webb, the shelter's director. She described the loss of United Way funding as "a serious blow. We're trying hard to keep things going."

Affiliated with the YWCA since 1980, the shelter provides short-term housing for about 25 abused women and children.

United Way officials have been concerned about the YWCA's finances for at least a year, and cut the organization's monthly allocation in half last November because YWCA officials failed to account for the organization's expenditures, Tasaka said.

The move resulted in a number of cost-cutting measures. The YWCA's executive director, Paula Wood, was laid off and has not been replaced. Wood could not be reached for comment.

But United Way directors voted unanimously last month to cut off funds entirely, and detailed their concerns in a six-page memo. While there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, they said, there were a number of concerns in addition to the lack of financial information. Among those mentioned in the memo:

* The YWCA has been unable to sustain any programs other than the battered women's shelter. The organization closed a day-care center, for example, in December, 1989.

* The organization was facing a projected operating deficit of more than $87,000 in the current fiscal year, despite full United Way funding.

* The YWCA had no board president for three months earlier this year, and for most of the last two years there was no finance committee, treasurer or community advisory board.

Douglas, who volunteered to become president of the YWCA's Board of Directors after the United Way made its decision, said she could not provide detailed information on how the United Way money was spent. Of the $220,000 provided annually by United Way until last November, Douglas said, slightly more than $100,000 went directly to Women Shelter. The rest, she said, helped pay for staff salaries and the now-defunct child care center.

She said YWCA directors recently arranged for a volunteer accountant to examine the organization's records to provide a more detailed accounting. The six-member board is also planning letter-writing and fund-raising campaigns.

"The board members are hard-working and meeting their obligations," Douglas said. "Our main goal now is to save the women's shelter."

Webb, the shelter's director, said some staff members already have been let go or have been working reduced hours. "We're working very lean," she said. The shelter also receives money from the city, county and private contributors, but the United Way funding accounted for more than half of its $200,000 annual budget, Webb said.

Located in a plain-looking Long Beach apartment with seven bedrooms, the shelter offers residents room and board, counseling, child care and housing referrals.

During a gathering of residents in the shelter's kitchen, some expressed concerns about the facility's future.

"It's tragic," one 23-year-old said about the cuts. She said she had been at the shelter for two weeks, after leaving a husband who had repeatedly beaten her. "There's a big need for a shelter like this," she said.

Sitting nearby was a 26-year-old who had recently left home after her husband physically and sexually abused her 3-year-old daughter. "This shelter saved my life," the young woman said. "Without a place like this, I'd have ended up on the streets."

United Way and YWCA officials say they are discussing the possibility of turning management of the shelter over to Harbor YWCA in San Pedro, which is also funded by United Way.

During most of its existence in Long Beach, the YWCA occupied a five-story brick building on Pacific Avenue that included a swimming pool, cafeteria, beauty shop, hotel rooms and rooftop tennis court.

The organization abandoned the building in 1976 after a ceiling collapsed into the swimming pool, killing one swimmer and injuring five others.

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