Local domestic violence shelter forced to turn away hundreds

You are currently viewing Local domestic violence shelter forced to turn away hundredsDarrell Hoemann
From left: Stephanie Thurman and Lisa Little, a court advocates with Courage Connection and Isak Griffiths, executive director with the groups Angel Tree fundraiser at Lincoln Square in Urbana on Friday, December 12, 2014.

Johnathan Hettinger/For CU-CitizenAccess.org –The only domestic violence shelter in Champaign-Urbana has had to turn away hundreds of women and children because it does not have enough room, and the problem is only getting worse, according to shelter statistics.

Isak Griffiths, the executive director of the shelter, Courage Connection, said the organization currently does not have the resources to expand its services.

But the organization is beginning a strategic planning process to help determine the best way to grow its services, Griffiths said. In fiscal year 2013, the organization received $1,368,912 in government grants and $634,130 in other contributions, gifts and grants, but it was not enough.

The shelter is routinely near, at or over capacity, said its former director of programs, Katie Sissors Harmon last month. She resigned to take a job at the University of Illinois shortly after this interview.

From July 1, 2014 to Nov. 30, 2014 the shelter’s transitional housing program was forced to turn away 192 single women and 136 families, including 175 children. Its other program, the emergency shelter had to turn away 22 single women and 19 families, including 125 children.

The transitional housing program provides shelter to domestic violence victims and homeless women and children for up to one year. The emergency program provides domestic violence victims with 30 to 45 days of housing.

The numbers for the past five months top the numbers from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014. During that period, the transitional housing program was forced to turn away 124 single women and 130 families, including 251 children. Its other program, the emergency shelter service, had to turn away 22 single women and 58 families, including 48 children.

From July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, the transitional services was able to serve only 20 women and 20 children, and the emergency service was able to serve 103 women and 83 children.

During the period, Sissors Harmon said the shelter planned to provide 10,950 shelter nights a year for clients. It defines nights as an individual who has a bed. But because the shelter helped women with multiple children, it actually provided 15,040 nights.

Both transitional and emergency services combine to offer 30 beds, three in each room. Clients without families share a room. Families have a room to themselves.

If the shelter is over-capacity, it has funds to place clients in a hotel, but that is only if all other options have been exhausted and does not happen very often, said Sissors Harmon.

Courage Connection refers clients to other domestic violence shelters, including those in Danville, Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, Charleston and Kankakee. Courage Connection will provide transportation if it has the funds to do so.

“We work with victims on safety planning as well and assisting them, if they would like, in determining any friends or family they could stay with for the time being,” Sissors Harmon said.

The shelter also refers women on the waiting list to other shelters in Champaign-Urbana, such as Restoration Urban Ministries and United Way’s Emergency Shelter for Families and Austin’s Place, a shelter for single women in winter months, which opens Monday.

“In addition, on our waiting list, we always prioritize women who are sleeping in places not meant for human habitation – on the streets, parks, cars, etc.,” Sissors Harmon said.

Courage Connection does the intake for Austin’s Place.  But Austin’s Place only has eight beds and can only take single women – no children.  In eight seasons, Austin’s Place has never had to turn away a client, said pastor Cathy Minor of the First United Methodist Church.

Griffiths said it is hard for Courage Connection to track down clients who are turned away from their programs so they don’t know whether the women go back into dangerous situations.

“Ultimately, they’re adults, and they get to decide where to go,” Griffiths said.

In the past, women with teenage sons were not able to bring their sons to sleep in the facility, but many women did not feel comfortable leaving their teenage sons to fend for themselves, said Lisa Little, a court advocate at Courage Connection.

The organization has since changed that policy to allow boys 17 and younger to stay in the shelter with their mothers.

Courage Connection’s shelter is helpful, but housing is one of the most difficult things for victims of domestic violence survivors to find, said Emily Dworkin, a former graduate student director of the Community Advocacy program at the University of Illinois. The program, which has been around since 2003, has helped more than 200 survivors of domestic violence.

Dworkin, a graduate student in psychology who oversaw the program for two years, said the advocates even encountered one client who was sleeping in her car in a storage space because she had nowhere else to go.
“It’s very difficult to determine what they’ll do in the meantime,” she said.


Other services
In addition to the shelter services, Courage Connection offers legal and counseling services to victims of domestic violence. From July 2013 to June 2014, the organization served 692 clients, answered 935 domestic violence hotline calls and filed 122 Orders of Protection.

Lisa Little, a court advocate at Courage Connection, said she helps victims navigate the legal system. Her work includes filing orders of protection, going to court on behalf of clients, finding attorneys and helping victims prepare to go to court if they can’t afford an attorney and have to defend themselves.

Unlike the shelter services, however, Little said, the legal advocates don’t turn down many clients. If they do so, it’s usually because they feel like the person requesting the help may actually be the abuser or the person requesting the help is looking to file an order of protection against a previous client of Courage Connection.

Little also helps give presentations to local law enforcement officials and the Police Training Institute about how to handle domestic violence crime scenes.

Courage Connection’s newest service, announced Wednesday, allows domestic violence victims to get free legal advice through the Virtual Legal Clinic. Clients come in and video chat with an attorney via Skype for sessions that typically last one hour. The service was launched by the Office of Lt. Governor Sheila Simon and the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence in 2011.

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