For 13 years the Harvey County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Task Force has operated a safe house — an emergency for shelter women and children in need of a place to get away from their abusers.
The Safe House is constantly full — and at time above real capacity. But building a new place, or buying a different building — may not be the answer for the task force.
"I have concerns about sustainablity," said Jan Jones, director of the Safe House and task force. "Right now state and federal funds are being cut."
In the midst of state and federal cuts, the safe house has served more families — last year there was a 64 percent increase in the number of families staying at the Safe House.
The task force is currently providing services for 137 families with 123 children in case management, shelter, support group, direct aid or victim services programs. In the last year, the task force has served 75 victims, a 25 percent increase over the previous year.
During that same time period, staff answered more than 3,200 calls to the crisis line.
"A lot of that is the program we started with the city of Newton," Jones said.
The task force coordinates with Newton Police and the city prosecutor's office. That collaboration, funded through state grants, has led to an increase in the number of cases prosecuted.
And increased demand at the Safe House. Right now it is not uncommon for families to sleep on air mattresses in the living room.
"We're bursting at the seams at the house right now," Jones said.
And while that is happening, the house is staffed 24 hours a day every day of the year. There are volunteers who help, along with paid staff, to keep the house staffed.
"This is crucial to provide a safe and supportive environment for the families we serve," Jones said. "It allows shelter families the ability to safely come and go in order to continue employment, access community resources such as safe housing and to experience a time of health that is so important for victims and their children."
More than a Safe House
While the Safe House grabs most of the attention from the community despite its secret location, the task force provides other services, as well.
There's a Christmas program — collecting and distributing gifts for children who receive services from the task force.
The task force also maintains a clothes closet, provides Internet access for job searches, holiday meals for families and distributes food boxes and hygiene items to families who are served by the Task Force.
Jones said essential services offered include case management, connecting with community resources, children resources, housing, employment, continued education, medical support, help with financial budgeting, parenting, transportation, legal resources, life skills training, substance abuse support and meeting basic needs.
"Immediate services are crucial to support victims," Jones said.
All of those services are offered to residents of Harvey County.
"Our funding is for Harvey County," Jones said. "Very few of the victims and children we serve are from other counties. There are those times when a victim and their children will stay at the Safe House because they have had to seek refuge in another city or county."
It's not totally known if the future will be to add on to the current facility, or to purchase a new one at another location.
"Our organization is starting a strategic planning committee," Jones said. "We need to see where that takes us."
She said five years ago there was a discussion of moving to a new location — but at that time funding was an issue. Funding continues to be an issue, and Jones said it will likely determine if the task force will add on to the current Safe House or move elsewhere.
The current Safe House is paid for, and taking on new debt is something the task force is being cautious about.
"We need to find a way to bring in some income," Jones said. "We need to bring in income without placing a burden on the community."
The task force has brought more than $151,807 in grant funds to Harvey County since the end of 2010 — but funding remains a concern in the face of state and federal cuts.
Needing a helping hand