The Ottumwa Courier

October 30, 2012

Services for crime victims will be decreased

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Some programs to rescue victims of domestic violence will end. But we can still try to help them.

“The money is not going to be there,” said Donna Phillips, head of the Iowa Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division. “It’s hard. We know programs are going to close.”

The programs the AG supports now include places, like the Women’s Crisis Shelter in Wapello County; and people, like the advocates who respond to victims of sexual violence.

But state and federal cuts will chop about a quarter of the budget for such programs, a loss of nearly $2 million.

Victim Assistance has been trying to come up with a way to keep as much running as possible. The public meeting in Ottumwa Monday with Phillips and Janelle Melohn, Crime Victim Assistance director, was to gather input.

The “plan” being talked about at the state level is not set in stone, said Phillips, but if the public wants to see changes, they need to supply alternatives that fit within the framework of federal and state regulations under which Victim Services operates.

Phillips said they must, without a doubt, look at how services are delivered and change it because there are very few other ways to save $2 million.

Melohn said that because of past cuts, programs have been forced to “trim the fat” anywhere they could find it. Now there’s not a whole lot of excess where cuts can be made.

One shift could take place in an unexpected area: Reducing the number of crisis shelters available to victims of violence.

Melohn said research is increasingly showing that victims are better able to stay safe from violence if they have long-term housing. And the victim numbers tend to agree, said Phillips.

“Only 11 percent of the ... victims want [or use] shelter. But half our resources go to shelters,” Phillips said.

That’s probably not the most efficient allocation of resources, she said. But she did acknowledge how important shelter can be in some situations. A anti-violence professional attending the meeting described how important a shelter nearby was 17 years ago when she and her children faced neglect and homelessness.

Shelters would remain, the two state officials said, but not as many of them. There would be more focus on people, getting advocates out to the victims who need help. There would still be hotlines, too, for assistance in emergencies.

One area of strong resistance locally from “the public” — which primarily consisted of health professionals, elected officials and representatives of violence prevention groups — was the map in which Iowa would be divided into six regions.

The region with Wapello, Davis, Mahaska, Monroe and Appanoose counties is also in the same region as Polk County. The southern tier of rural Iowa has historically been overshadowed and out-muscled by more urban areas like Des Moines, said audience members.  

Phillips and Melohn said their office keeps a careful watch on distribution of resources, and encourages  fair and equitable access to services for victims.

But, they acknowledged, the political system can take its toll on the definition of fair.