For 37 years, volunteers and staff members at Crisis Line of Will & Grundy Counties have been the voice-at-the-end-of-the-line for people with thoughts of suicide – even in the dead of night.
But whether the 24-hour suicide prevention hotline will be around for another 37 years to be that life-saving phone call remains in question, said Michele Batara, executive director for the group.
The Crisis Line is experiencing “a crisis of its own,” she said, in part due to a depletion of funds, budget cuts, and a July deadline to leave its current rental property because the building is being sold, Batara said.
“[We have] cut as many expenses as we can. There is nowhere else to cut and still operate,” she said.
That, coupled with the need to relocate, is jeopardizing the hotline’s existence, Batara said.
“Even if we didn’t have to leave, we won’t be able to continue. But it’s hand-in-hand. If I find a location but I can’t afford it, it’s not going to do us any good,” Batara said. “We’re trying to find someone that can help support us or pay rent for us.”
Because the hotline often deals with people suffering from mental illnesses, the hotline’s location must remain confidential, secure, and be accessible to its volunteers 24/7, she said.
One longtime volunteer, who wanted to remain anonymous because the nature of the calls taken, said she finds comfort in knowing she can be that lifeline for people in their darkest moments.
“Sometimes, in the middle of the night, you get people who are just kind of lonely who need to talk to someone, especially around the holidays,” the volunteer said.
Crisis Line offers an around-the-clock, confidential listening ear to 45,000 to 50,000 people in Will and Grundy counties for grief counseling, information referral and other services, Batara said. About 25 volunteers fill 48, four-hour shifts throughout the week.
“We’re that extra support for individuals who can’t get into counseling every week. So where do they go? They turn to us. There are lot of individuals who are suicidal that we’re able to talk down,” she said. “We do deal with some very, very serious issues.”
For decades, the agency had relied on a single, private $500,000 donation – first made in 1990 – to help pay rent, utilities and phone bills. But last year, that safety net ran out, Batara said.
“It’s really month-by-month right now. We’re to the point where we’ve already cut everything. We’ve cut staff, switched to a cheaper phone company. We’re at the point where there’s no extra money. We pay the bills and that’s all we’re doing,” she said.
The Crisis Line’s financial troubles are likely to worsen this year because the group’s major funding source, United Way of Will County also is struggling to do more with less.
Last year, United Way of Will County fell short of its goal, and as a result, officials for the first time in 20 years opted to lower the annual fundraising goal from the previous year to $3.7 million. But that means the agencies United Way of Will County helps will see fewer dollars, too, said Michael Hennessy, president and CEO for the group.
“If things don’t change, we’ll have to reduce funding at a time when more people are reaching out for help,” Hennessy said. ”That’s the dilemma we’ve seen over the last few years. Revenues have declined, yet demand for services grow.”
The Crisis Line serves Grundy County, as well, and therefore it also receives funds from the United Way of Grundy County annually. The Grundy United Way exceeded it’s $455,000 goal last year.
For the last three years the Grundy County organization has given the Crisis Line $16,000 a year. Before that, it gave $15,000 a year, said Karen Nall, executive director for the United Way of Grundy County.
“We have not been contacted regarding their status and how it affects Grundy County,” Nall said.
Hennessy said Crisis Line’s service is vital, though it’s one that often goes unrecognized by the general population.
“They do things quietly behind the scenes. They field those calls. They get people the help they need to move forward in a positive way,” Hennessy said. “But if they went away, some people would really feel the impact of not having that 24/7 availability of service. It’s something that, frankly, people take for granted.”