Social ills addressed by partnerships

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Thirty percent of all female murder victims in the United States were killed by their boyfriends or husbands. In Colorado Springs, domestic violence homicides accounted for 44 percent of all murders in 2002, according to TESSA (formerly The Center for Prevention of Domestic Violence) statistics.

The El Paso County Department of Human Services issued a news release May 4 citing a much higher demand for social services in 2003. About 741 children – an increase of 9 percent – are living in foster care or residential and group homes. The department served about 4,000 more households in 2003 – a 17 percent increase from the previous year. Although the 9,387 reports to the child abuse and neglect hotline decreased by 4 percent this year, investigations increased by 7 percent.

As the population grows and the need to increase social services heightens, the department continues to face budget cuts. In 2003, the department reduced its staff and cut expenditures by $7 million.

Because of limited money and resources, social service agencies have traditionally formed partnerships to improve the response to community needs, enhancing the overall health and welfare of the community.

The Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team (DVERT) was formed in 1996 with three partners. Today, the community collaboration is partnering with 39 local agencies that include, law enforcement, TESSA, a Springs nonprofit group that addresses the needs of victims of domestic and family violence and adult sexual assault, and animal welfare officers from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. DVERT’s goals are to “enhance the safety of high-risk-for-lethality victims, including children and animals; ensure appropriate containment of high-risk offenders; facilitate local community oriented policing initiatives; provide specialized training locally and nationally; and support communities seeking to develop and sustain similar collaborate efforts.”

DVERT attempts to meet those goals through a multi-disciplinary approach to the problems of family violence, victim advocacy programs, case management, specialized training, research and community outreach.

Caroline Holmes is the DVERT program coordinator. She said there is a particular project that offers avenues of participation for the business community. “Women who stay in their situations (physically abusive) are at the highest risk for injury and/or death,” Holmes said. Some people have difficulty understanding why women stay in abusive situations, but it is never as black and white as it appears to outsiders. There are many barriers to independent living, and, because of rising housing costs in Colorado Springs, finding an alternative housing situation is not easy.

The DVERT Rewards Program was created in response to the lack of housing available for victims of domestic violence who need to leave their current living arrangement. In 2002, domestic violence agencies in Colorado denied 5,361 requests for shelter because of a lack of space, according to the Colorado Coalition against Domestic Violence. In 2002, Springs-based TESSA turned away 54 requests for shelter because of a shortage of options for emergency safe-housing situations.

To counteract the problem, DVERT administrators, in July 2003, met with representatives from the Apartment Association of Colorado Springs to enlist their help. One owner agreed to provide three apartments to the program at no charge. Since then, other owners and organizations that provide subsidized housing have aligned with the project.

The rewards program links domestic violence victims with multi-family housing communities that are willing to waive or reduce deposits, fees and rents. Victims of domestic violence apply for short-term or long-term housing through DVERT and TESSA. Businesses can get involved by donating household goods to victims who are in transition. Sometimes, women leaving an abusive situation take only the clothes on their backs.

Holmes said individuals and business organizations can participate through the gift basket project. Coordinators identify the victims’ immediate needs and have sought help from faith-based groups and business leaders to provide gift baskets that include items such as peanut butter, soap and towels. Once the victim secures an alternate living arrangement, she is equipped with the initial necessities, having one less thing to worry about.

Cari Davis, the executive director of TESSA, enjoys the partnership with DVERT. “This collaboration is a unique model addressing violence in a holistic manner,” Davis said. “We don’t take this issue seriously in this community – a lot of people hurt others and don’t suffer the consequences.” She said one in five American women is a victim of some type of abuse. Everyone is affected by family violence, and it is important to educate the community about the effects of violence not only in a family but also in the workplace.

“Abuse is not going to end until communities decide to end it,” Holmes said. “We cannot solve community ills without engaging the community.”