Victims of crime who are homeless or struggling to pay for housing in Southwest Colorado may be eligible for short-term funding thanks to a new program started by local nonprofits.
In August, Volunteers of America, Housing Solutions of the Southwest and Rise Above Violence launched the Home Again Partnership, which has assisted about 68 households with short-term funding, according to data compiled by the VOA in early December.
A complementary program funded by the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to launch early this year that will provide longer-term transitional housing assistance for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, said Elizabeth Salkind, executive director of Housing Solutions.
To fund the short-term housing assistance program, nonprofits received almost $300,000 through the Victims of Crime Act to help victims stay in their homes or get them back into housing quickly, said Rachel Bauske Frasure, Southwest Colorado division director for Volunteers of America.
It can help prevent low-income victims of crime from having an eviction notice on their record and cover expenses, such as the first month of rent and utilities.
About 83 percent of those who have participated in the program so far were victims of domestic or family violence, according to the VOA. Many were clients staying in the Southwest Safehouse.
“A little bit of help and a reasonable plan to move forward – that might be the one thing that allows someone to recover from an unsafe situation or get out of an unsafe situation,” Salkind said.
Victims of physical assault, elder abuse, sexual assault, child abuse, neglect, burglary, stalking and harassment also have received assistance. But the program is not tied to any one type of crime.
“The key to it is helping people whose homelessness is directly related to the crime,” Salkind said.
Victims do not need to have filed a police report to participate in the program. Often, victims of domestic violence are afraid of the repercussions against the perpetrator and other consequences of reporting, Frasure said.
“Filing any kind of police report can be a daunting task,” she said.
Nonprofits have provided about $35,000 in financial assistance, according to data compiled in December.
“We’re still stretching our legs and beginning to expand beyond La Plata County and Archuleta County,” she said.
The nonprofits plan to work with organizations in Montezuma, San Juan and Dolores counties to assist victims in those areas as well.
As part of the grant to provide short-term assistance, the VOA was able to hire a housing coordinator and mobile advocate who can meet with clients in the field, where they feel more comfortable. In the past, VOA hasn’t been able to send people into the field because it needed to staff the shelters, Frasure said.
Housing Solutions also has been able to add staff to help victims as part of the additional funding, Salkind said.
The grant also takes the pressure off a small VOA emergency fund that can now be used to relocate victims of domestic violence who need to leave the area by providing gasoline vouchers and airfare.
“Having these additional funds is crucial because we’ve been pretty limited on the emergency funds we have had in the past,” Frasure said.
To fund longer-term transitional housing, the U.S. Justice Department granted $350,000 to Housing Solutions for a three-year program. Housing Solutions plans to partner with VOA, Alternative Horizons and Sexual Assault Services Organization on the grant.
The funding could be used to assist individuals for up to two years. The longer time frame can help victims escape volatile situations, especially if they’re dependent on an abuser’s home or income, Salkind said.
“They may need to finish education, they might need do some job training, they might have a child care issue they need to address. Those types of things take time, it’s just really hard to address them in a month or two,” she said.
The long-term housing assistance will be paired with optional counseling, and Salkind expects experts at SASO and outside psychologists will work with some clients. Some people could also take part in financial counseling, she said.
Finding affordable housing to serve victims of crime can be a challenge locally. Private landlords interested in working with the VOA on housing can call its local administrative office at 259-1021.