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Haywood agency stretches to help neighbors, even in face of own financial challenges
Part two of a two-part series about how WNC groups are working to help victims of domestic violence after another agency implodes. Read the first story here.
As REACH of Macon County and local officials reorganized and took on the task of helping meet the needs of victims of domestic violence in Jackson County, they found they weren’t alone.
REACH of Jackson County — which used an acronym for Resources, Education, Assistance, Counseling, Housing – was an agency that provided emergency services for victims of domestic violence. It was founded in 1978, and its shelter opened in 1988.
But when a litany of financial problems drove the agency to close in February, victims were left with questions about where to turn for help. As the Macon County agency stepped in to help, so did an agency to the east – REACH of Haywood County.
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Despite the shake-up, statewide advocates say services to Western North Carolina’s victims of domestic violence – who often face life-or-death situations – have remained steady, often relying on a network of advocates and agencies to fill in gaps while local officials reroute public funding.
But even as the Haywood County stretches to help keep those services up, it’s facing it’s own challenges.
“Forty-five percent of our operating budget comes from state and federal funds,” said Julia Freeman, executive director for REACH of Haywood County. “Projections for 2012-13 look like we will lose some of that funding.”
Since 1982, REACH of Haywood County has provided emergency services to any person experiencing domestic violence. Now, additional clients and the loss of a portion of the program’s state and federal funding will force the program to seek additional financial support from the community, Freeman said.
“This won’t directly affect services we offer, but we will have to watch our expenses and will have to secure more donations from private donations, local government and community fundraising,” Freeman said. REACH of Haywood County also operates a thrift shop called Within REACH, which supplements its operating budget.
The Haywood County shelter for victims of domestic violence hosts an average of 115 to 130 individuals annually. The number has steadily increased over the years, and residents stay an average of 18 days at the shelter, she said.
Some women are asking to stay longer at the shelter because they can’t find decent paying jobs, Freeman said.
Many lack the skills needed to be competitive in the marketplace. When they aren’t able to become self-sufficient, some women get discouraged and go back to their abusers, she said, and then the abusive cycle is repeated.
And because victims of domestic violence often have few financial resources, REACH also offers assistance with rent or mortgage payments, grocery cards, child care assistance and gas vouchers.
“We are seeing much more complicated situations, but we have a wonderful network with other agencies,” Freeman said.
State agency assists local domestic violence programs
That network is part of what helped keep domestic violence services going for Jackson County residents after the county’s go-to agency closed.
“Macon County’s REACH is well-equipped to make sure there is no gap in services in Western North Carolina,” said Judy Chaet, operations director for the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a statewide program that offers training and assistance to area domestic violence programs. “There could not have been a better response.”
The coalition hosts regional meetings, where domestic violence agencies can share concerns and information. That is helpful when resources are stretched and tough economic conditions can lead to problems within a relationship and spur domestic violence, Freeman said.
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Chaet said it is critical for services to be community based, and efforts are underway to get an interim domestic violence program up and running in Jackson County.
And while she acknowledged that the need always exceeds the available resources, particularly due to dramatic funding cutbacks, she said she is confident that there will be no gap in services in that county. Overall, she said, the needs of victims of domestic violence in Western North Carolina are being met.
“We have some amazing and very effective programs in Western North Carolina,” Chaet said.
Read more about domestic violence services across Western North Carolina: