BLOOMINGTON — Human services professionals, accustomed to being a light in the darkness for people in crisis, are feeling more vulnerable.

To add insult to irony, their increased anxiety is happening at a time that's supposed to be of good cheer.

The state budget impasse means agencies serving children in crisis, programs that help older adults, home weatherization for the poor, services to children with autism and other programs have had to make cuts, or will soon.

"Being six months without a (state) budget is hitting every level of health and human services," said Karen Zangerle, executive director of PATH, whose services include 24/7 crisis information and investigation of abuse reports of people with disabilities and age 60 and older.

"In 35 years in the human services, I have never seen this before," said Lisa Pieper, Children's Home + Aid regional vice president. "It's hard on staff. It's hard on families we serve."

Meanwhile, there were the recent shootings in California, where human services professionals were among those attacked.

Even so, Central Illinois human services representatives talk about how the increased anxiety is affecting not only them but people they serve.

Tom Barr, executive director of the Center for Human Services (CHS), McLean County's mental health agency, said, "They (mass shootings) are making anyone, regardless of profession, regardless of location, more on edge. Individuals with weapons shooting innocent people — the entire nation is more apprehensive."

During the most recent quarter — July 1 through Sept. 30 — more than 300 calls were placed to the PATH hot line by people contemplating suicide, Zangerle said. "Usually, we have 90 to 100."

For 13 of those calls, police and an ambulance were dispatched because the caller had begun a suicide attempt or had a gun, Zangerle said. "In a typical quarter we have three."

"This is amazing," Zangerle said. "We don't know the reason for the increase. Does it reflect an accurate picture of the community? We certainly have people who are hurting."

"Our staff is overwhelmed but they continue to respond," PATH Assistant Director Kathryn Johnson added.

"A challenge in the human services is, in many cases, these are complex situations," Zangerle said. "Sometimes, the success isn't immediate."

"I want the governor and legislators to work collaboratively for the good of the communities," Barr said. "The stalemate is hurting the people who are most vulnerable."

Children's Home + Aid has cut one employee from its Healthy Start program for teen moms in need, meaning 100 families are being served rather than 125. Pieper said. The agency is using nonstate funds.

The agency's Butterfly Project, for children who have experienced violence, has cut one employee, meaning 15 families are being served rather than 30, Pieper said.

As to the shootings, "we do regular lockdown and evacuation drills for the whole campus," Pieper said. "We have established safe rooms and code words. The shootings have helped us to realize how important it is to continue our efforts. We're doing everything we can to keep our staff and families safe."

Other agencies also are reviewing safety protocols.

At PATH, with no state money for adult protective services since July 1, that unit may be reduced soon, meaning the agency will have to lay off two employees and others will have to take a furlough day, said Zangerle, adding, "It's very stressful."

At LIFE Center for Independent Living (LIFE CIL), reduced state funding has meant two of nine employees have been laid off, with the remaining seven employees and declining cash reserves keeping programs going, Executive Director Gail Kear said.

"I am very proud, grateful and humbled by my staff," she said. "They are taking on additional work and responsibilities and everyone has done what has needed to be done with good cheer."

At the Center for Human Services, a reduction in state funding for the medical program and crisis team has reduced the agency's funding by 10 percent. CHS is keeping the programs going by using reserves, decreasing the number of new clients in the medical program and not filling an open position on the crisis team, Barr said.

"Our community is healthy, safe and strong in part because we have comprehensive human services," said Laura Furlong, CEO of Marcfirst, which assists people with developmental disabilities. "People may not realize the value of these services until they are gone."

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