Courts & Corrections

More than $9 million in grants to aid victims of violence

Patrick Leahy
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announces federal grants Tuesday in Middlebury. Photo by Adam Federman/VTDigger
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.

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  • Scott Pavek

    No matter your party affiliation, you have to applaud Senator Leahy’s efforts here. Securing these funds will meet a real need in Vermont, given the shortage of transitional housing resources for victims of domestic violence.

    • Good Jobs and Education are the BEST medicine. Leahy and the Liberals have ruined both. So you can applaud him throwing some tax money around but it doesn’t address the root problem. Generally he’s not interested to fixing that.

      • Scott Pavek

        Steve – the Crime Victims Fund doesn’t use taxpayer money, but instead uses fines and fees collected from convicted federal offenders. While everyone certainly supports great education and good jobs for Vermonters, those things won’t help individuals seeking immediate relief from domestic violence. We should never have to tell a Vermonter in need that there’s a shortage of beds in our transitional housing facilities.

        • You’re not interested in addressing the underlying cause and working to fix it

          • Scott Pavek

            I think we should, Steve! All I’m trying to say is that there is a very real need for acute help and immediate resources here in Vermont. Until we address these underlying causes, we must strive to provide victims of domestic violence with all the resources at our disposal.

  • Chuck Shannon

    The problem is all the money goes to “Non-profit” organizations that are out of control in Vermont. I wonder how much of the cash will trickle down to the people who need it?

  • Roger Sweatt

    20 Trillion in debt and counting.

    • Scott Pavek

      Hey, Roger – I’d just like to point out that the Crime Victims Fund doesn’t actually rely upon taxpayer money! It’s a win for everyone involved.

      • Where did the “Grant Money” come from?

        • Scott Pavek

          From OVC.gov, “The Fund is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders, not from tax dollars.” I hope that answers your question!

          • Jason Wells

            Scott, Actually the release you linked below clearly states that only the VOCA grants of 5.5mil were paid with the victims fund and further that it paid for the “bulk” of them whatever that means. So at minimum were talking 4.5mil in taxpayer funds. While I applaud the effort on the issue I find your claims to be very suspicious. Please correct me if I am missing something here.

          • Scott Pavek

            All I know is what I read in that press release, but it seems to me that what it says here is that 4.7M of the 5M given to Vermont through VOCA is allocated via a grant formula. I’m no expert, but where are you reading about taxes?

  • Jennifer Roberts

    VT Digger — What does the money going to Middlebury College cover? I’m sure they must have some outreach program, but it’s not outlined in your article. I’m curious.

  • Keith Stern

    As the senior member of the senate what has the senator done to make sure social security stays solvent and future generations don’t live with overburdening debt? Getting pork is the easy part; paying for it so our children don’t end up paying interest on it for eternity would make him a valuable legislator.