OTTUMWA — When women and children in danger had nowhere to turn during the past 35 years, the Ottumwa area Women's Outreach and Crisis Shelter was there for them.
But now, budget challenges have prompted funding cuts from the Iowa Attorney General, a main source of funding for victim defense resources around Iowa.
"Right now, we are a one-stop shop," said Cheryl Brown, executive director of the crisis shelter. "We're a shelter, an outreach, [a finder of] resources. With the redesign of the Crime Victim Assistance fund, we'll no longer have a shelter as we know it."
Semantically, the state calls the redesign "going regional." All the services are there, the state has announced. But the services will be split over a large geographic area — 11 counties. So this "region" will still have a shelter for women and their children in danger from domestic violence — you'll just have to go to Oskaloosa to stay there. People in Oskaloosa who need help through the Comprehensive Rural Domestic Abuse Program can get that help, too. But they'd have to drive to Ottumwa.
"So 12 out of 20 Iowa shelters will not be funded," Brown said. "We'll be here, just in a different way. My vision is that we will continue to provide all the services we provide. We were funded for the Comprehensive Rural Domestic Abuse Program. But we'll be serving 11 counties instead of the six we currently serve."
In a case of imminent danger, she said, they'll have some options.
"Our focus will be on getting people into hotels or motels. Hopefully in their community, close to their natural support system. Our first goal for this year is to do 10 apartments," Brown said.
Which facilities will close and when has not been confirmed yet.
"Today I'm in the process of talking to the Crime Victim Assistance division [of the AG's office] to see what the possibilities are," Brown said. "We're in the process of transitioning."
Women will still get help, she said. If the Ottumwa organization doesn't have the correct resources, they'll help victims find what they need.
"I want the community to know we are still here," Brown said, "and will be here."
— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark