The Ottumwa Courier

October 15, 2013

Safe shelter

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Despite cuts to domestic abuse services for victims, the center in Wapello County is trying to keep things as normal as possible; funding from supporters has helped.

The biggest change required by state government: The Crisis Center in Ottumwa no longer has an emergency shelter. Executive director Cheryl Brown says local agencies like hers weren't given a choice. So now she's working to make services the same or better than before with just the place victims sleep being different.

"We provide alternative shelter, like hotel or motel, and we work on getting victims into permanent housing," Brown said.

That should be a little easier with the $20,000 grant the Crisis Center received from the national Mary Kay Foundation.

The United Way, Wapello County government and the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation have all given new or continuing grants to support the center. The goal is still to get victims to live independently and safely in a supportive environment. The ways that might happen are changing, however.

"We are officially in transition as we [prepare to serve] our 10-county region," Brown said. "We're doing on-call for 10 counties; that means our staff [is] responding to emergency calls throughout [most] of the service area. Our shelter officially closed September 16, and [in general], we're no longer doing new sexual assault cases."

That doesn't mean victims can't get certain services. They might end up getting them from another county. And victims from those counties may get some of their services from Wapello County. Oskaloosa still has a fixed-location emergency shelter, for example.

The intent in using a motel is not to isolate a person, Brown said. If possible, she wants to enhance services provided to victims locally; so while someone and their child may stay at a motel at night, during the day, they might be able to come to the Crisis Center offices on Elm Street for classes on financial literacy, nutrition or other activities that get people together. So a victim may sleep at a motel instead of the shelter, but they will receive many of the same resources as in the past but on an "outreach" basis.

Due to funding cuts and the "reorganization" plan, the Crisis Center is reducing the number of facilities they have. In addition to closing the shelter, they are closing the Church Street office.

"We've had a good response in regards to our community providing for our community," Brown said about the grants, "but we still need canned goods and financial support. And people should know if they collect Christmas presents for the children, we're still going to make sure our outreach kids get them."

All around southeast Iowa, reorganization is moving along fairly smoothly, Brown said.

"It certainly wasn't what we wanted to do, but overall it's going well. I think the victims feel they are having their needs met as well, and safety is still always the main concern."

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark

The Crisis Center is collecting old cell phones that will be sent in and traded for working units that can be carried in case of emergency. If you want to donate a phone, and, if you find it, the charger, stop by the Crisis Center offices at 1014 North Elm Street. Contact numbers for the center are 641-683-3122 for the crisis line or 800 464 8340. The office phone number is 641-683-1750.