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Statewide Plan Announced to Overhaul Crime Victim Services

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - Federal and state funding cuts will mean changes to services for Iowans who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

"How do we make sure people are not traveling 100 or more miles (for help)?" said Kristie Fortmann-Doser, Executive Director of Iowa City's Domestic Violence Intervention Program, DVIP.

Federal funding for the state's domestic violence and sexual assault programs has been cut 18 percent - more than $1.4 million - since 2010, according to the Iowa Attorney General's office.

State funding cuts over the same period amount to another 7 percent, or $213,600.

"There's a lot of questions we don't really have answers to right now," said Karla Miller, Executive Director of Iowa City's Rape Victim Advocacy Program. "Small communities have concerns that urban areas are going to gobble up the rural areas and that their resources will be taken out of their community."

Fortmann-Doser expects her program, whose 40-bed Iowa City shelter serves four counties, will see its $270,000 allocation from the attorney general's office cut by up to $75,000.

Liz Hoskins, Director of Cedar Rapids Waypoint, said cuts are likely when the present fiscal year ends next June 30.

"I can't say with any certainty right now what's going to happen with any funding," said Hoskins. "We're just kind of waiting for the attorney general's office to take us through this (reorganization) process."

Announced last month, the Attorney General's plan to counter the cuts calls for regionally-based services. The state would be divided into six regions - Iowa City would be in the 14-county southeast region, Cedar Rapids in the 15-county northeast. Although the number of clients sheltered in Iowa City has dropped between 2009 and last July, from 342 to 308, shelter-nights (one person staying one night) jumped more than 10 percent, to 12,888.

"What we've struggled with is, it's taking longer and longer for individuals to find (permanent) shelter," said Fortmann-Doser.

With the average shelter stay up from 32 to nearly 45 days, turn-aways increased more than 10 percent, to more than 700, in the year ending June 30, 2011. Statewide, turn-aways at urban shelters jumped 140 percent.

Since closing its shelter in later 2009 Waypoint has placed domestic assault victims at local motels while staff works to find them a permanent place. That may be with family members or in their own new apartment.

"It's worked beautifully," said Hoskins. "After having the shelter stay closed a couple months, our team said we're doing things differently and well."

Waypoint's caseload more than doubled from 2009 to 2011, to 2,614, according to the attorney general's office. The attorney general's plan calls for use of short-term safe houses before placing assault victims in scattered-site and transitional housing programs.

"Looking at shelter beyond bricks and mortar is important, but there absolutely is a need for the shelter," said Fortmann-Doser. The process will include a series of public meetings by the attorney general's Crime Victims Assistance Office.

Regardless of what happens, Miller said victim advocates will find a way to keep services available.

"Overall, we're going to do the best we possibly can, because that's what the people in our field do."

Fortmann-Doser said one is set for 6 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Coralville Public Library.

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