TOWANDA - Use of the Abuse and Rape Crisis Center's emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence, rape and other sexual abuse has risen dramatically over the past couple of years, a representative of the agency told the Bradford County commissioners at their most recent meeting.

The number of days someone stayed at the shelter - which are called "shelter days" - increased from 337 in Fiscal Year 2009-10 to 525 in Fiscal Year 2010-11, said Beth Thompson, who serves as a volunteer for the Abuse and Rape Crisis Center.

For the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2011-12, the number of "shelter days" at the shelter was 192, she said. "If we continue at the projected rate, we are looking at 768 shelter days for the 2011-12 fiscal year," Thompson told the commissioners.

Thompson said there are probably a range of reasons why there has been an increase in the number of people using the shelter, which is located in Bradford County.

The increase in the local population is one of them, she said.

"When you have an influx of people, those incidents are going to increase," said Thompson, who had served on ARCC's board of directors in the past. She also said there is a lot of drug and alcohol abuse in the local area, which can lead to situations that would result in people staying at the shelter.

In a related matter, Bradford County Prothonotary Sally Vaughn said the filing of PFAs in the Bradford County Prothonotary's Office has more than doubled during the first half of this year, increasing from 38 filed in January to 97 filed in June. She said the increase in the local population is the only way she knows of to explain the rise.

In an interview after the meeting, she said she didn't have statistics available on the numbers of PFAs in previous years in the county.

The ARCC has had to turn away a rising number of people from its emergency shelter because they do not meet the qualifications for staying there, Thompson also said. For example, homeless people who do not fall into one of the categories for which the shelter is intended would be turned away, Thompson said.

"Sadly, because of our funding guidelines, we cannot function as a homeless shelter," she said.

While the use of its shelter is increasing, the amount of funding that the ARCC receives is decreasing, she said.

"Unfortunately, there has been a continuing decrease of funding (coming to the ARCC) from our major funding organization, which is the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV)," Thompson said. "This year, PCADV funding has decreased 4.35 percent" and funding to the ARCC from FEMA has been eliminated, she said.

"Funding (to the ARCC) has decreased over the past few years (and) we are presently around the funding levels we were receiving 10 years ago," she said.

Besides operating the emergency shelter, the ARCC operates a 24/7 crisis hotline, provides counseling for victims of current or past abuse and their significant others and children, operates support groups, does prevention education, and, among other things, provides medical and legal advocacy and accompaniment.

All services provided by the ARCC are free and confidential, Thompson said.

On Thursday, the commissioners passed a proclamation making October Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Bradford County.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or e-mail: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.