Adam Williams, Deborah Ross—the most recent among a growing number of Contra Costa domestic violence victims—as the state cuts funds for such victims

Last month’s shooting death of 16-year-old Adam Williams of Walnut Creek on Mount Diablo–at the hands of his mother who then immediately killed herself . . . The double-killing Tuesday evening of Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toll worker Deborah Ross, 51, and her friend, Ersie Everette, allegedly by her estranged boyfriend . . . And more . . .

These killings fit a growing but disturbing local trend. They are the latest victims in a “shocking” escalation in the number of domestic violence killings in Contra Costa County, says Michelle Davis, director of development and marketing for Concord-based STAND! Against Domestic Violence.
STAND! has counted 16 domestic violence related homicides in the last 12 months, including two in the past couple weeks in Antioch and San Pablo. In late July, a 45-year-old Antioch man was charged with strangling his 44-year-old girlfriend. Earlier this month, a 46-year-old man shot and killed his 33-year-old wife in their San Pablo home, then turned the gun on himself.
Actually, the 16 in STAND’s accounting don’t include Adam Williams, Deborah Ross, or her friend, Ersie Everette. With regard to Adam Williams, this figure comprises cases of violence involving “intimate partners,” not child abuse. Meanwhile, the killings of Deborah Ross and Ersie Everette are just too recent, but once added, would bring STAND’s number up to 18.

Still, the killings of Adam Williams and Deborah Ross fit into another disturbing pattern STAND is seeing. In both cases, the alleged killers were under some of the same financial stresses that many in the community are feeling in this time of recession, job losses, and home foreclosures.

Adam Williams’ mother, Judith, 51, owned her own company that helped nurses find work, but her company was struggling, and she had been dogged by financial problems, including bankruptcy, for more than a decade. She also faced being evicting by her Walnut Creek landlord, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Complicating matters was the fact that she was an “angry” woman, upset that her ex-husband was back in her son’s life, the Chronicle said. One reader commenting on an earlier story I wrote said that Adam, a friend of her son’s, wanted to go live with his father because his mother “was too controlling and mean to him.” Moreover, according to her suicide note, she killed her son, and then herself to, to keep her son from her ex-husband.

Meanwhile, both Deborah Ross and her estranged boyfriend, Nathan Burris, were beset by money woes. Ross had been dealing with health issues, Burris had lost a job, and had, until recently been struggling to find work. The couple might have been four months behind on rent, and Ross was considering a move to Tracy to live with a sister.

As more people are under financial and family stress in this economy, STAND has seen a 64 percent increase in calls to its crisis line over the past year. And requests for emergency shelter from women and children fleeing violence in their homes is also up, Davis said.

But STAND! is facing financial woes of its own, Davis said. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of the entire $20.4 million State Domestic Violence Program slashed more than $200,000 from STAND’s budget and eliminated funding for core intervention services at STAND!’s emergency shelter, she said.

“Last year STAND! lost $500,000 from cuts in public and private funding and this year we’re facing at least another $500,000. In total the $1 million slashes STAND!’s budget for core safety net services by a nearly a third.”

These cuts mean STAND! can no longer answer all the calls to its crisis line or provide 24/7 services to victims. It must also cut back on its shelter services. These service cuts will put strains on other public and nonprofit agencies, with 211 and 911 expected to receive increased numbers of calls and a rising numbers of people seeking emergency housing from Shelter Inc.

Davis says that STAND! staff and volunteer leaders “have made difficult reductions in staffing and programs to absorb cuts in funding. We’ve increased our volunteer recruiting and training efforts to offset some of the losses. The agency has already reduced/reallocated administrative and management staff and built efficiencies into its core service delivery. These additional cuts are forcing us to make decisions that we know may have life or death consequences for victims in our community.”
While STAND! struggles to keep up with demand, Contra Costa County is also planning more layoffs and about $50 million more in cuts in health programs and social services, the Contra Costa Times reported this week. Those cuts include $5.4 million to child welfare services, with the loss of 27 social worker jobs, in addition to the more than 100 positions already eliminated in December. Joe Valentine, director of the county’s employment and human services department, predicted that child welfare caseloads would rise above national standards.

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