As funding issues continue to affect domestic violence programs across the state, the local Fort Dodge shelter is undergoing changes to cope with money problems while still providing a service to the community.
Among the changes happening at the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center is that, beginning Oct. 1, the facility will only focus on providing shelter care and discontinue its outreach programs.
Connie Harris, executive director of D/SAOC, said the change is due to a reorganization of domestic violence shelters that was first announced last year.
-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Connie Harris, executive director of the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center, shows one of the new bedrooms at the Fort Dodge shelter. The room used to be an office.
"A new plan was released to the executive directors of programs around the state that indicated that we would be moving to a six-region service area," Harris said. "That made a lot of changes for us."
D/SAOC is located in Region 2, which includes two other victim service programs located in Story and Cerro Gordo counties.
The one in Cerro Gordo County, which is based in Mason City, will handle outreach programming.
"They're currently working on getting staffing and they'll be hiring people to handle their coverage area," Harris said.
That coverage area includes Webster County.
"We will be providing shelter for any victims fleeing domestic violence and sexual assault," she said.
"We'll still do counseling," Harris said. "We'll go to court with people who are actually in the shelter and we'll do protective orders. We'll do everything we do now, but we will only do it for people living in the shelter. We're not changing our services, but in order for us to provide it, they must be in the shelter."
Right now, in addition to shelter, D/SAOC provides outreach programs such as support groups and child advocacy.
Once the changes are officially implemented, some of the Mason City staff will be working out of Fort Dodge for a one-year trial period, she said. The actual number of staff that will be involved is undecided because D/SAOC hasn't received word on how much grant money it has for the 2013-2014 year. Harris hopes to know by the end of this week how much money the shelter will receive.
In preparation for the conversion into an expanded shelter that could include up to 20 additional beds, Harris said D/SAOC has undergone a number of renovations.
"We put a new client kitchen in, and we ripped up the carpet so we could go to a solid surface hardwood floor," she said. "That will make it easier for cleaning."
Shelter employees have also painted rooms and cleaned offices.
"We have converted all of our upstairs offices into bedrooms," Harris said. "We're adding as many beds as we can get in."
Harris is in the process of writing grants for money to buy bunk beds, which she said will be necessary to hold more people.
"We're trying to find donations because we've got to create probably at least 20 more beds in this place," she said. "And we want people to be safe, so we're trying to figure out ways of providing privacy."
One option is looking at privacy curtains like the ones hospitals use. But without money, those can't be added to the shelter.
That's what has made the last several months and the future so stressful for not only Harris, but all the shelter employees.
"The planning process is really overwhelming," Harris said. "All the things we have to think about and all the money it's going to take."
Despite the concerns about funding, she said there are positive aspects to the changes.
"We have the opportunity now to provide comprehensive services," she said. "We've been trying to operate for a lot of years on shrinking resources and continuing to do multiple things at once. Even though we're continuing to lose money, we are going to be specializing in one program."
Another advantage is that everybody will be working together.
"We'll all be in the same building and focusing on the same things," Harris said. "Our clients will receive really, really good service."
Still, the shelter does have a need for volunteers and donations.
"We need volunteers for transporation, volunteers to work in the shelter and people that might be interested in coming over and doing work with our clients," Harris said. "We'd like to have people come in to teach life skills, book clubs, knitting classes. Anything people might want to come in and provide for our clients as an activity."