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Joan Sisco, of Springfield, is one of thousands of women and children who sought shelter at one of Missouri's domestic violence shelters, but were told there was no room. Now, she is homeless.Missouri's domestic violence shelters had to say, "Sorry, no room" more than 21,000 times last year to victims trying to flee their abusers, according to the Missouri Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. That's because most of those shelters are already bursting at the seams. Where are these victims going instead, and what can we do as a community to bring these numbers down? You can hear our five-part series by clicking on the stories below.

Missouri Shelters Balance Funding Between Protection, Advocacy

Harmony House facebook page

Missouri’s domestic violence shelters are almost all operating at full capacity:  they had to reject women and children seeking shelter more than 21,000 times last year.  In today’s part of our series, “Turned Away,” KSMU’s Jennifer Davidson looks at the funding for Missouri’s shelters, and how that money is being spent.

In the heart of Springfield rests a 90-year-old brick building with a security pad at the door.  Inside is a long, green hallway lined with doors. An intercom summons the resident in room 22-A to report to the office.  This is part of Greene County’s only domestic violence shelter, Harmony House, and last year, nearly 600 women and children sought refuge in these rooms from their abusers.  But the untold story is that over twice that number were unable to stay here because there was no room.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of women who said, ‘I’ve slept on the street for three days, and I couldn’t handle it anymore so I just went home. Because I’d rather be at home and walk a fine line than be sleeping out on the street in below-zero temperatures,” said Brittney Walker, outreach coordinator at Harmony House.  This is one of 76 domestic violence shelters in Missouri.

Credit Harmony House facebook page
These doors inside the Harmony House domestic violence shelter lead to rooms where abuse victims find safety.

And the numbers of those turned away has steadily been climbing statewide.

Zak Wilson of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence says one reason is awareness.

“Domestic violence used to be a very taboo topic in our culture, and it was something that was kept behind closed doors. So we’re breaking through those barriers. And now we have more people and other community agencies that are aware of the shelter, [and] aware of the services that are provided. So they are providing more referrals, [and] more people are trying to access it. All of those are good things,” said Wilson.

Another piece of the puzzle, he says, is funding. The shelters are funded by a combination of donations and grants. They also receive both federal and state funding.

“So what we’re seeing is that a lot of the federal grants and private grants that were out there that were supporting staff positions, that those have been gradually cut over time so you can have a staff person that was 75% [funded] by a specific grant, but now they are down to 40% [funded],” Wilson said.

Also, he said some of the big pots of federal money for domestic violence – like the Violence Against Women Act and Victims of Crime Act –are getting more and more segmented as more groups become aware that the funding is available. 

They've put me in a safe home. They give me the support groups. When I'm in [the courtroom] alone and I have to face my abuser, they're right there beside me.
-Patricia Seek, Domestic Violence Survivor

In response to federal cuts, state funding was ramped up this year. Governor Jay Nixon announced in March that the Missouri Department of Social Services would send $500,000 to domestic violence shelters to make up for that gap.

Every charitable organization must file a Form 990 with the IRS—it shows how much revenue they made, and how much they spent. It’s public record, because it’s meant to help people decide where to donate their money.

Reporter Standup:  “So right now, I’m scouring through the IRS Form 990s filed for the last several years by shelters in Springfield, Joplin, Branson, Lebanon and West Plains.  And it looks like it’s been a bumpy ride for revenue—up and down over the past five years for most of them. Harmony House actually saw its overall revenue gradually increase every year from 2009 to 2012. But I’m noticing that in all of the shelters I’m analyzing, way over half of their funding—sometimes over ¾ of their funding—is going toward employee salaries and benefits—including for employees that don’t directly work with victims staying there. That’s because these shelters are much more than just, well, shelters: they’re out in the community doing outreach, prevention, and advocacy."

“They’ve put me in a safe home. They give me the support groups. When I’m in [the courtroom] alone and I have to face my abuser, they’re right there beside me,” said Patricia Seek, one person whose life has turned around since tapping into those outreach services.

He took my cell phone away from me, took my battery out, took my keys, and took my purse.
-Patricia Seek

She called Harmony House after her husband of 14 years tried to smother her and choke her with a cord, and damaged her eardrum by slapping her mother’s Bible across her face. She had a good job as a manager at her office, so she qualified for an outreach program called Rapid Re-housing. That’s where Harmony House immediately sets up a new place for the victim, and helps pay off any past apartment debt.  But Patricia’s husband used Facebook to find her hiding place. In his last attack on her, he held her captive for 15 frightening hours.

“He took my cell phone away from me, took my battery out, took my keys, and took my purse,” she said.

Harmony House outreach programs have allowed Patricia to build her self-esteem at a weekly support group, and its court advocate helped her file for divorce.

But not all domestic violence victims qualify for the Rapid Re-housing program—many desperately need an actual shelter.

Harmony House has begun a capital campaign project and plans to build a new shelter. But as of now, it plans to only have 40 to 50 additional beds—nowhere near enough to meet even the current demand of those being turned away.

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