© 2021 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
IPR News

Understanding Iowa's restructuring plan for victims of domestic violence

Iowa Attorney General's Crime Victim Assistance Division

Doing more with less has been the operating theme for many social service providers experiencing federal budget cuts. In Iowa, organizations that help victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault are seeing a major overhaul of how they provide their services; the changes will begin to go into effect July 1. Iowa Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren reports.

27-year-old Shay clearly remembers the time she woke her son up at 5-am, packed what she could, and boarded a bus in Chicago, destined for Cedar Rapids.

“I got to the point where I was like I’m tired of this, I need something better for my son. I was scared out of my mind, I don’t know nothing but Chicago,” she said.

Shay asked to go only by her first name, because her former abuser does not know where she is. When she came to Cedar Rapids, she was able to participate in a transitional housing program that’s soon to become more common in Iowa as the state restructures its services for victims of domestic abuse.

Through Waypoint, a Cedar Rapids nonprofit that serves those victims, Shay was able to rent a small, two-bedroom apartment for her and her young son.

“If I choose to keep the apartment I can, I can keep it and pay the rent, by then I’ll be financially stable. It doesn’t cost a lot,” Shay said.  Come fall, she hopes to pursue a job in nursing, and learn to drive a car.

With a rapid re-housing program, nonprofits can pay a security deposit and first month’s rent to place a victim and her family in a home. Waypoint’s Betty Daniels says it works out to about $1,100—a sum that’s difficult for women to afford right after they leave their abuser, but is actually less than it costs to house someone in a shelter for a month.

062”We decided it was a better way to operate because it’s a more wholistic way of looking, instead of just sheltering someone, without following through to see that they are stabilized and becoming more and more self sufficient.”

The Cedar Rapids program serves as one example for how Iowa plans to change the way these services are provided.  Laurie Schipper of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence says in the past, large pieces of their budget went towards shelters for domestic abuse survivors—something many victims didn’t actually need or use.

“Programs have had to decrease staff, and pull in most of their staff just to cover the needs of a 24/7 shelter, which left large segments of survivors completely unserved. We were actually funding empty beds,” Schipper said.

Schipper says Iowa domestic violence programs found they had to restructure their services after facing years of budget cuts, both from the state and nationally.

“It was sort of the perfect storm. In the past the attorney general’s office has been able to mitigate the damage of cuts by rolling over victim compensation dollars, but we’ve bankrupt the surplus and we’re unable to look to that.”   

The coalition decided that major changes were needed. Iowa will be divided into six service areas, each with designated programs. Some providers will expand the number of counties they serve, while others shut their doors. One of those is the Marshalltown DVA, where Dottie Thompson is executive director.

“Victims we see with our shelter program will have to travel. Fort Dodge is the regional provider,” she explained. An organization in Ames has said they will also offer shelter services.

Like many shelters in smaller communities, the Marshalltown DVA did not receive funding under Iowa’s restructuring plan. Thompson says next month, they’ll begin the process of closing their center.

“My secondary concern is for my staff. How they’re feeling and how traumatic this has been. Because we were not expecting this at all,” Thompson said.

Thompson says that because these organizations have only had a year to plan and prepare for restructured network of services, she’s concerned that even with an influx of state funding, the transition could be a bumpy one.