A series of community meetings begin tonight (Monday) for Iowans to offer input on a proposal to reorganize statewide victim services. Janelle Melohn is the director of the Crime Victim Assistance Division within the Iowa Attorney General’s office. She says federal and state funding cuts since 2007 have forced eight programs in Iowa to close. That’s resulted in larger service areas in pockets of the state – with inequitable divisions of both programming and funding. “The map of how services look right now across the state…is not equal at all,” Melohn said. “So, we may have programs in western Iowa that serve up to eight counties while we have a program in eastern Iowa that serves two counties.”
According to Melohn, federal funding for Iowa’s crime victim assistance programs has declined by 18 percent (18%), or nearly $1.5 million, over the past three fiscal years. State appropriations have declined by seven percent (7%), or nearly $214,000, over the same time period. In addition to programs shutting down, other programs are eliminating core services. “It really isn’t acceptable,” Melohn said. “There are some things that we have to have all over the state. There has to be a crisis response to victims who are sitting in a law enforcement office or in a hospital after a crime has been perpetrated against them. There are certain things that have to be met and we have to make sure we are doing that equally for domestic violence and sexual assault victims.”
The reorganization plan would divide the state into six multi-county service areas with the state awarding funding on a competitive basis to programs in each region. Melohn suggests more dollars should be directed toward services that help victims, rather than shelters that aren’t being used. Use of shelters has declined, but those buildings require around-the-clock staffing and expensive upkeep. “Of all the victims that our programs served last year, only 11-percent of those were victims who sought shelter. Yet, we’re allocating almost 40-percent of our resources to shelter services,” Melohn said. “When you look at the huge discrepancy there, it really begs the question – are we using our money in the most efficient manner? I would say no.”
Some domestic violence programs in the state have moved to a “transitional model” by closing a 24/7 shelter and instead housing victims in hotels until more permanent housing options are found. There are 13 public meetings scheduled around the state to discuss the proposed changes.
Locally, meetings will be held Monday 10/22:
1:30 p.m. in Atlantic at Iowa Western Community College (Room 141)
6:00 p.m. in Creston at Southwestern Community College (Instructional Center, Room 180)