CNCounty News

Counties invest ARPA dollars to prevent domestic violence

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Key Takeaways

Faced with heightened rates of domestic violence over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, counties are investing American Rescue Plan Act dollars into support services, shelters and specialized courts.

Domestic violence hotlines receive more than 20,000 phone calls per day on average in the United States and, while domestic violence is a problem across the country, studies show that it’s more prevalent in rural counties, which have less funding and infrastructure for support services than their urban counterparts. 

Jackson County, N.C. hasn’t had a domestic violence shelter since 2011, with residents having to drive an hour away to neighboring Macon County to receive emergency housing. However, because of ARPA, that’s changing. The county dedicated $2.2 million in ARPA funding, which was matched by Dogwood Health Trust, to the creation of a shelter, which is projected to be completed in July 2024.

The 20-bed facility will be run by the non-profit organization Center for Domestic Peace, which currently provides domestic violence referrals and services to Jackson County residents, including transportation, civil legal advocacy and health information. 

“Getting their kids to school every morning, going to school or to work every day –– those are real barriers that will keep folks from leaving an abusive situation when we don’t have a shelter to offer,” said Wes Myers, executive director for Center for Domestic Peace.

“Once we have that shelter, we’ll be able to kind of intensify some of our services for those clients –– providing more in-house therapy, more in-house job trainings and really just working with them at a deeper level that you can when they’re living in your facility –– really just provide them with 24/7 wraparound services, which is what we obviously always hoped to be able to provide.”

It’s rare for a North Carolina county government in a rural area like Jackson County to directly fund a shelter, both Myers and Jackson County Manager Don Adams said.

“In smaller counties, you generally see these shelters –– it could be domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, all different types of housing –– really ran by nonprofits where the counties partner, but they’re not the primary funder,” Adams said.

“Here, it is a little bit rarer to see a county government step up and actually be the funder for the construction of the shelter.”

Adams said the shelter is currently in the programming stage and he and representatives from Center for Domestic Peace have spent the last few months visiting shelters in nearby areas, including Macon County, the city of Hendersonville and Swain County, to determine best practices.

Urban counties Kent County, Mich. and Maricopa County, Ariz., dedicated $4 million and $15 million, respectively, in ARPA funding toward domestic violence resources.

Kent County, Michigan’s funding is going toward the creation of a domestic violence court program. Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker and the Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team have advocated for the county creating a domestic violence court for years, and through ARPA funding, it will finally be possible.

“Domestic violence is something we see every day, any prosecutor’s office, whatever county they’re in, sees every day,” Becker said. “Anytime we could do more to intervene and maybe prevent it from happening down the road is beneficial, and so to try and take a look at getting interventions to probably people who have done it multiple times is going to help cut costs later on by hopefully not involving the criminal justice system down the road and be ultimately stopped.

“We’ve had a number of domestic violence homicides, so hopefully, it’ll cut down the number of those as well in terms of getting intervention to the defendants, getting them treatment and also providing support services for those victims, to remove them from dangerous situations,” Becker noted. “To have an intensive court that does kind of two things is pretty unique, and I think it just benefits the community as a whole.”

While domestic violence increased more than 8 percent across the country over the COVID-19 lockdown, a small portion of counties devoted ARPA funding toward domestic violence resources. Becker said he thinks a big reason for that is the commitment of funding something like a domestic violence court long-term.  

“I think there’s a concern that you set up a court –– the court is a county, city, it’s a government entity –– well, once you set it up, how are you going to pay for it in three years when ARPA funding goes?” Becker said. “The courts are strained right now as it is and the counties don’t get enough funding right now to run core operation, so I think that’s probably the biggest pushback, not that I’m an expert, but that was what we were hearing too –– is this sustainable?”

Becker said one of the primary benefits of domestic violence courts is how much more specialized they are to the victim’s needs.

“There isn’t, in traditional court, a whole lot of support services, that they would go reach out to the victim and say, ‘Hey, what do you need? How can we help you get through this stretch? Is it childcare? Is it support services? Is it counseling?’” he said.

“Generally, when police are called for domestic violence situations, it’s not the first time it happened,” he noted. “Are we dealing with someone that needs counseling services? Maybe they need a shelter, here’s a way we can get them set up for shelter quicker and more efficiently. So, it really is reaching out to the victim, which really doesn’t happen with as much intensity when you’re going through the ‘traditional’ court process.”

Maricopa County, Ariz. is also devoting funding toward survivor support, in addition to shifting to community-based services and sustaining critical services, like emergency housing, that had experienced cuts in funding. The county is partnering with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence to best distribute the funds.

“I think Maricopa County was particularly unique in that they didn’t rely on internal expertise and instead turned to the community to ask what was most needed,” said Jenna Panas, CEO of the coalition. “So, this wasn’t a bunch of government administrators thinking that they were the experts, they literally went to the people that were providing services in the field and said, ‘What do we need?’”

In 2020 alone, 102 people in Arizona died as a result of domestic violence, 64 percent of whom were in Maricopa County. The county knew to be successful it had to meet people where they were, Panas said.

“We saw during COVID that place-based [services], where folks come and receive counseling in location or receive specific services in a specific location, just wasn’t accessible,” Panas said.

“And we learned a lot of really great lessons which was the value of community-based services, where services are available where the survivors are ––services that are available virtually or mobile –– and so that funding allowed for expansion of services and shifts to better meet the ongoing needs of survivors in the county.”

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