MIDDLEBURY — Vermont will receive more than $9 million in federal funding to support victims of domestic violence and other violent crime in some of the state’s most underserved areas, Sen. Patrick Leahy announced Tuesday in Middlebury.
People fleeing violence in rural areas often struggle to find the help and resources they need, he said.
“So often in small towns we can’t talk about this problem,” said Leahy, D-Vt.
The grants totaling $9.3 million have been awarded to 12 organizations including WomenSafe Inc., the Pride Center of Vermont, the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, and Middlebury College. Ten of the grants were funded through the Violence Against Women Act, and two through the Victims of Crime Act.
According to Leahy, the money will come from federal fines and penalties, not taxpayer dollars. Raising a cap on the Crime Victims Fund, which Leahy pushed as the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has led to a threefold annual increase in the funding available for such programs, he said.
Leahy also emphasized that through the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act two years ago, additional resources have been allocated for the LGBTQ community and Native Americans.
“I went to a lot of crime scenes when I was a prosecutor,” Leahy said. “When you had a victim, oftentimes dead, nobody ever asked what their sexual orientation was or whether they were Native American. We said a victim is a victim is a victim. Let’s find out who did this.”
The Violence Against Women Act was originally passed in 1994 and received broad bipartisan support until its reauthorization was up in 2013. Members of the House refused to vote on the measure for more than 500 days as they sought to strip provisions designed to protect LGBTQ, Native American and illegal immigrant victims.
Leahy gave credit to Sen. Mike Crapo, a conservative Republican from Idaho, for helping him shepherd the bill through Congress. “It’s the old style,” Leahy said. “He keeps his word.”
The federal funding comes as Vermont grapples with a sharp increase in the number of individuals and families seeking emergency housing because of domestic violence. Even as overall spending on emergency housing has declined, the state has seen an expansion in demand for services among those fleeing domestic violence.
Last year in Rutland County the state spent nearly $1 million on vouchers for temporary shelter, up more than $140,000 from the year before. According to Avaloy Lanning, executive director of the Rutland Women’s Network and Shelter, nearly a third of those seeking housing in the county were fleeing domestic violence.
Willow Wheelock, training and education coordinator at WomenSafe Inc., said Addison County has seen similar trends and has a shortage of housing and shelter beds for victims of domestic violence.
“In the absence of shelter, the transitional housing grant is so important,” she said. WomenSafe will receive more than $300,000 to provide transitional housing to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.
Elizabeth Ready, executive director of the John Graham Housing and Services in Vergennes, said the vacancy rate for housing in Addison County is extremely low, about 1 percent.
“It’s a real issue to be able to get people into units,” Ready said.
John Graham has five buildings — three in Vergennes, one in Middlebury and one in Bristol. At any given time, Ready said, they serve 100 people. “At least 50 percent of the people we work with have been affected by domestic violence,” Ready said.
Yacouba Jacob Bogre, executive director of the Association of Africans Living in Vermont, which is receiving more than $325,000, said the organization works with people who have fled torture or violence in their home countries of Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Bhutan. The grant will allow the association to develop culturally specific services including crisis intervention, case management, outreach and mental health services for African immigrant women and families.
Auburn Watersong, associate director of public policy at the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the state’s rural character poses particular challenges to those seeking access to services. The grant funding will allow the network to expand transitional housing services, rental assistance and outreach to the state’s most vulnerable communities, including those dealing with drug addiction and mental illness.
“Victims are often forced to make the untenable choice between homelessness and violence,” Watersong said.