So, the findings of a new state audit come as a shock. There is actually more money shelters could have gotten to maintain services.
In reviewing cases over a four-year period, Santa Clara County sat on $715,000 that should have gone to shelters. In Sacramento County, $418,000 languished in an account.
Without this money, fewer families are able to get help and some feel forced to go back to their abusive relationships. Shelters can't provide as many beds for women and their children and there isn't as much food. In some instances, legal services were eliminated.
"It decimated our domestic violence programming and we have been struggling ever since," said Beth Hassett, the director of a Northern California shelter.
Shelter workers are especially frustrated the courts are lax in making batterers pay. Adding insult to injury, counties haven't been collecting mandatory court fines and fees from convicted abusers that boost funding.
In Los Angeles County, the collection rate averaged 57 percent. San Diego County had the worst at just 12 percent.
"What we've seen is some of the judges feel sorry for the perpetrators and they aren't forcing them to pay the fees that they're supposed to be paying," Hassett said.
While counties and courts told the state auditor they'll improve their ways and distribute the funds, shelters look back now and shake their heads.
"Had I known there was this money available, it would have completely changed how we responded to the community," Hassett said.
The lack of money is real. A one-day statewide survey last year found that shelters could not fulfill nearly 1,000 requests for services.