The Bristol Press – With incidents of domestic violence on the rise and the need for shelter for victims, service providers are struggling to keep up with demand

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NEW BRITAIN – As the pandemic has raised an increased risk of domestic violence and led to an increase in incidents, service providers are turning to government officials for help with funding to meet demand.

In Connecticut, 37.7% of women and 33.9% of men experience domestic violence, sexual violence and / or harassment in their lifetime, according to Sen. Chris Murphy, who recently joined the Prudence Crandall Center. in New Britain to talk about the problem.

“I know how difficult it has been, especially last year, and how demand has exploded here in Connecticut and across the country,” Murphy said Friday. “We are at a time when it is more difficult for you to stay in business and ensure the safety of your employees and when funders have continued to be engaged. ”

Carlos Robalino, Safe Connect Advocacy Coordinator, CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the past 15 months have been “difficult for everyone, but especially for the victims.”

Robalino added that it had been extremely difficult to create a safety plan while the victims were around their attackers.

According to the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice, incidents of domestic violence increased by 8.1% during the pandemic, between the lockdown orders of March 2020 and February 24, 2021. According to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, this domestic violence the number of victims in need of housing increased from 2,214 in 2019 to 2,795 in 2020.

“The level of trauma and the level of abuse that children and parents were exposed to were huge challenges to overcome and we had to be creative to meet those needs,” said Barri Ritter, Services Coordinator. in childhood, Prudence Crandall Center. “I think people being so isolated and being at home with their abuser, kids not in school, not having exposure to their support systems, and mental health and substance abuse. substances were skyrocketing, I think all of these factors contributed to situations that were already on the verge of exploding during covid.

Toumi, a victim of domestic violence with a 6-year-old, shared part of her story.

“I arrived in the United States in 2005 from Morocco,” he said. “I never heard of Safe Haven, I never heard of the CDC until one day I found myself dealing with domestic violence, which a lot of men can’t talk about. I have been there. It was a difficult experience and it was not easy to manage.

Safe Haven, which provides crisis intervention to any victim of domestic violence, provided Toumi with items such as hygiene and cleaning products, clothing, transportation, green card renewal, resolution of his driver’s license problem and a job opportunity. Safe Haven is a Waterbury-based organization.

“I was grateful for a lot of people that I had never met before and I had the chance to meet them today and I love the way you still fight gun violence,” Toumi said.

Earlier this year, Murphy, along with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (R) and U.S. Representative Jim Himes (R), introduced the Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act to address loopholes that allow domestic abusers to legally obtain weapons. The US bailout also provided $ 1.25 million to support Connecticut beneficiaries of the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act program.

“If it weren’t so easy to get a gun, if it was easier to take guns away from dangerous people, we wouldn’t get rid of domestic violence, but we would make a significant dent,” he said. Murphy said.

The CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence helps coordinate meetings in different parts of the state with lawmakers to raise awareness of these issues.

“I know that in our program alone we have had such an increase in demand for people in need of accommodation and counseling services,” said Barbara Damon, President and CEO of the Prudence Crandall Center. “We have a 40% increase in the demand for consulting services. Our shelter was at times at 250% capacity and up to 55 people at a time in our 22 bed program, so we used hotels because there is no other way to protect people. These are all challenges that all domestic violence shelters have faced. ”

Marisol Carrasquillo, housing resources coordinator, Prudence Crandall Center, said it wasn’t ideal.

“When we go to visit a hotel guest with four children, they are confined to the room and it’s a bit harsh with the pandemic,” Carrasquillo said. “They feel more comfortable here because they can prepare their meals, they have a little more space to accommodate their children and take care of everything at the same time. Thinking about what I’m going to do next, where am I going to go, and that’s when I come in and try to work with the family with the quick relocation program and other programs to try. to relocate them again. ”

This increase in needs has put enormous pressure on the budget.

“Our hotel budget for fiscal 2021 was $ 7,500; we spent $ 87,000 on hotels, ”said Lee Schlesinger, executive director of Safe Haven in Greater Waterbury.

“Our hotel costs have so far been just under $ 200,000. In total, including the hotel, food, extra cleaning, facility renovations, plexiglass and all that, we’ve had $ 500,000 in unbudgeted costs since the start of the pandemic, ”Damon said.

Caution generally has to raise $ 700,000 each year just to cover budgeted expenses.

“In terms of government money, we were able to access CDBG funding that was covid specific for some of the facility upgrades we needed,” Damon said. “The money that went through DSS was reimbursement of hotel costs. Fortunately, the support of the community and some of the cash reserve we had allowed us to absorb some of that cost until it could be repaid, but we are generally not an organization that has a lot of cash reserve. It doesn’t take much to get into trouble, so it’s tenuous.

These organizations have not been able to raise funds as they usually would during the pandemic, so they relied heavily on government and the community.

“We were able to mobilize some of the funding for the DSS with For CT which was formed, it kind of dissolved, but a group of like-minded donors who put together a pool of money to help with everything. state and one of the top priorities was domestic violence services, so we got a significant amount of money from them, ”said Meghan Scanlon, President and CEO, CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Then the Seedlings Foundation connected with the coalition which is a larger foundation in the state of Connecticut, and we were also able to offset some of the costs through grants from the Seedling Foundation. ”

Organizations will be able to sustain themselves this year, but the concern is sustainability beyond.

“We haven’t really received a significant increase in funding since 2008,” Scanlon said. “We’ve asked for an additional $ 10 million, so $ 17 million over the next year, and we’re trying to get it through the bailout money or the planned budget surplus, so I’ve been very aggressive with it. our state level lawmakers to try to make sure they’re on top of this now so we can work with them over the next few months to figure out what this fix is. at least that $ 7 million, I don’t know how we’re going to survive.

The coalition’s top priority is funding VOCA.

“It’s such an important part of the funding, but obviously the VAWA and FVPSA funds are just as important, so we want to at least maintain that,” Scanlon said.

The funding helps 37,223 victims, including 32,201 adults and 4,922 children. A total of 2,795 victims are in shelters and other housing programs, of which 1,386 children’s shelters are operating at 126%. A total of 34,224 victims benefited from advocacy before the courts in civil and criminal cases. There are 33,452 victims who received individual counseling. Under existing funding, VAWA’s cost for each American is approximately $ 1.55 per year.

“For the survivors we work with, as they face more and more issues related to domestic violence, I see our staff escalating in so many ways and at the same time we are not even able to keep pace with minimum wage increases, ”Damon said. “So the people who work for minimum wage get increases, but the rest of the staff don’t because we don’t have the capacity to do it. It’s like okay, no more need for more services but not able to pay people to do more services and we have to be able to get a handle on that and see what the longer term solution is regarding the accommodation. Can we predict what the statewide needs will be? How do we finance this; how to think about it differently?

“We advocate in all of our federal grant applications for this next round of raising wages above the minimum wage threshold because we would like to be able to provide it to the people who are on the ground doing this work,” Scanlon said.

FINANCING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Fiscal 2020 federal funding for domestic violence services in Connecticut includes:

Family Violence Prevention & Services Act DHHS (FVPSA), which totaled $ 1,469,211. The FVPSA is the only federal funding source dedicated to domestic violence shelters. It supports vital services including emergency shelters, counseling and general victim advocacy programs for underserved communities.

Violence Against Women Act DOJ, Office for Combating Violence Against Women (VAWA / OVW), totaling $ 686,691. VAWA funds are at the heart of an effective and comprehensive coordinated community response to domestic violence. As a core VAWA program, grants for services, training, officers, prosecutors (arrest) are allocated to each state through a formula-based system to train law enforcement, prosecution and courts. to improve system-wide response.

Victims of Crime Act DOJ (VOCA), which totaled $ 7,813,618. VOCA uses non-taxpayer money from the Crime Victim Fund, which is funds generated from fines paid by federal crimes. After several years of growing concerns about declining deposits in the fund, President Joe Biden enacted the VOCA Fix Act in July 2021, which is expected to provide long-term stability to the fund. However, it is expected that the fund will take a few more years to replenish itself, leaving domestic violence service providers and other victim service providers across the country to prepare for temporary cuts. but important funding.


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