By Tom Miller
Special to the Herald
On Thursday in an opinion piece that State Rep. Mary Wolfe submitted to the Clinton Herald (“Show support for local programs that assist victims”), Rep. Wolfe expressed concern that a proposed statewide victim services reorganization plan “will have an extremely negative impact” on the ability of area residents to access victim services.
While Rep. Wolfe and I share a passion for zealously protecting our state’s crime victims, we may differ on how this reorganization plan will impact victim services.
Most importantly, what my office proposes will not compromise the availability of safe havens for domestic violence victims. It will, however, require us all to change how we provide the best possible support to our crime victims.
Federal funding for our state’s crime victim assistance programs, which is beyond the state’s control, has declined by 18 percent, or nearly $1.5 million, over the past three fiscal years.
State appropriations have declined by 7 percent, or nearly $214,000, over the same time period. These funding cuts have resulted in program staff cuts across Iowa, and reductions in services and facilities.
I have committed additional financial resources from the Crime Victim Assistance Fund to the victim service field to aid whenever possible, but the state’s crime victim assistance funding reserves are vulnerable. Repeated transfers cannot be a long-term solution without jeopardizing additional programs that benefit victims. Our current path is not sustainable.
Our choices are to curtail funding to every program across the state — which would certainly threaten crime victim service programs statewide, and the people they serve — or make smart choices in how we most effectively deliver services with available resources.
The Crime Victim Assistance Division in my office sought input from the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, past and current directors of crime victim programs around the state and experts in the field. Their valuable participation was key to our reorganization proposal.
Under this proposal, we would divide crime victim service areas into six multi-county regions. Within these service areas the state would fund one or two emergency shelter programs, one or two comprehensive domestic violence programs, and-or two comprehensive sexual assault programs.
Our goal is to utilize limited funds to effectively reach and adequately serve more victims, versus allocating significant resources to shelters that serve small populations. Our state’s domestic violence shelters report that in fiscal 2011, only 11 percent of adult domestic violence victims used shelters. These shelters, which must be staffed around the clock every day of the year, take precious, dwindling resources away from other valuable services, like counselors, programs that help facilitate permanent housing, food, education and employment. Our plan would actually retain and hire more advocates across the state and provide better services.
Several programs, like Waypoint Services for Women in Cedar Rapids, have already shifted their services delivery models. Waypoint closed its domestic violence shelter in 2009, and it has successfully implemented ways to provide even better services to domestic violence victims, including safe havens.
This proposal makes crime victim safety a key priority. Through a competitive process, we would fund and maintain shelters in every region, and we would ensure there are other available emergency housing options, such as safe houses, hotel/motel rooms, or other facilities. And we would also maintain current safety protocols and safety plans for emergency housing. When a victim needs help, they would get it through a victim advocate. While shelters provide one kind of emergency housing, they aren’t the only option.
If we don’t adapt, don’t plan ahead and take the easy way out by cutting all programs equally, the vine that bears the fruit of victim assistance programs across Iowa will wither. But if we are proactive and make smart choices, we can assure our state’s crime victims that we can continue to provide the protection and assistance they deserve.
We encourage anyone to attend a community meeting on Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. at Clinton Community College. We will share how programs currently deliver victim services, why it’s so important to make changes, the specifics of our proposal, and how this will and will not impact crime victims and communities. We have made no final decisions, and we are eager to hear from people who are interested or impacted by our fiscal situation and proposed response. Like Rep. Wolfe, I don’t want a domestic violence victim to stay in an abusive relationship and don’t want to see negative impacts on crime victims in Clinton County or in any county. And that’s why we are working so hard on the proposal.
Tom Miller is Iowa’s Attorney General.