Carey Roberts
Looking to make good money? Why not abuse shelters!
By Carey Roberts
February 17, 2009

In hard economic times, you have to be on the constant look-out for lucrative opportunities. So have you checked into the domestic violence industry?

This $4 billion-a-year industry has unlimited upside potential thanks to its irresistible message: "Help us protect the victims of battering and abuse." Domestic violence entrepreneurs have proved to be adept at broadening the definition of abuse so it now encompasses anything a man does that a woman doesn't like. That's what we call an unparalleled growth opportunity.

These programs are no longer the back-alley operations you once imagined. Some shelters now resemble an upscale hotel, complete with internet access, a childcare center, beauty salon, and pet care facilities.

Shelters enjoy a variety of profit centers. One of their favorites is to drive down to the local courthouse to get a restraining order. For $300 a pop, it's incredibly easy money. At the Bethany House of Northern Virginia, "Women with almost no marital problems are declared abused and are coached by the staff to go to court and get a protective order against their husbands," recounts a former shelter volunteer.

As a result, many shelters have become multi-million dollar operations. In Florida, the average shelter income exceeds $1.9 million each year. In Bridgeport, Conn. the Center for Women and Families takes in well over $3 million.

With all that loose change floating around, it's not surprising that shelter heads would want to cut loose every once in a while.

That got Florida shelter directors in trouble a few years ago when news leaked out of a retreat to be held on pricey Captiva Island where four-star resorts tout "beds with triple sheeting and 300-thread-count linens." According to the Miami Herald article, a state manager had "instructed her staff last summer to 'manipulate' the agency's contract with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence to hide the costs of the retreat 'so no one would know'" that Florida taxpayers were footing the bill.

Another attractive feature of the abuse industry is the near absence of regulatory hassles and paperwork demands. When you've dedicated your life's work to helping battered women, why should anyone have to fret about time cards and expense reports?

But if you're going to cut corners, just be sure you don't get caught.

At the YWCA abuse shelter in Knoxville, Tenn., managers got so busy helping victims that they forgot to fill out their tax and audit reports. Last summer the local United Way cut off funding because of the facility's slip-shod accounting practices.

At the South Central Region Domestic Violence Coalition in Oklahoma, staffers Cindy Lou Shores, Wenona Barnett, and Angela Camp were caught red-handed taking federal grant monies from the group's account at the Payne County Bank. Last March Shores was sentenced to 17 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $170,000 in restitution.

A number of shelter scams have been reported. My investment advice: Steer clear of these flim-flam operations.

Many shelters are involved in immigrant running operations. Like the SHIELD Foundation in Phoenix, Ariz., which coaches Russian women to file restraining orders, gets their husbands or boyfriends thrown into jail, and then strips his house of anything that can be hawked on the Black Market.

In Milwaukee, engineering professor Michael Wnuk found himself caught up in a Green Card hustle when his new Polish wife cleverly staged a public confrontation scene and then ran off to a local abuse shelter. According to the police report, there were "no injuries in the spot where she reported she was hit."

In Mountain View, Calif., a donate-your-car-for-a-worthy-cause operation started the Community Fellowship for Battered Women. In 2002, the donated cars were re-sold for $186,000, but only $10,000 went for program services. The shelter residents turned out to be drug addicts, not victims of battering. Women are welcomed with open arms "If they just tell a good story and they are very persistent," admits shelter owner/car dealer Gary Kegel.

Just down the road in Palo Alto, Calif., the North American Islamic Shelter for the Abused bills itself as the "first Bay Area domestic violence program sensitive to the needs of Muslims." But the Atlas watchdog group has a different story to tell — the shelter is actually a "bogus Islamic charity" that "has no shelter and offers no services other than referral to government shelters."

There is no requirement that shelter workers take a vow of poverty, and many shelter directors are rewarded handsomely for their efforts. In Dallas, Family Place director Paige Flink lives the good life with $163,000 in salary and benefits.

In rural Lake City, Fla., Another Way head Donna Fagan receives $95,000 — that's a bigger haul than area bank presidents. And shelter managers routinely pilfer donated toys, jewelry, and entertainment tickets, former employees reveal.

So who says you can't do well by doing good?

© Carey Roberts


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Carey Roberts

Carey Roberts is an analyst and commentator on political correctness. His best-known work was an exposé on Marxism and radical feminism... (more)

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