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Bed shortage forces shelters to turn victims away

September 7, 2014

Indiana's domestic violence shelters are serving record numbers of victims, and rising demand has drawn attention to the need for more beds.

Shelters housed 11,719 victims and turned away 601 for lack of room from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, The Indianapolis Star reported. But shelter workers say the number turned away would have been worse if they hadn't found ways to stretch their resources.

Shelters say they want to avoid turning away more victims as they had to in 2010-2011, when they told 1,564 people they couldn't help them. But the reality is that often only those whose lives are in danger can get immediate help.

That troubles victims' advocates

"For me, the most heartbreaking thing is for someone to get up the courage to call a perfect stranger . and ask for a counseling appointment, perhaps to meet with an attorney, to see if there's any shelter beds for her and her kids available, and then to be told, 'No, I'm so sorry. We just don't have anyone available. We don't have any beds available,'" said Cindy Southworth, vice president of development and innovation at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Catherine O'Connor, president and CEO of The Julian Center in Indianapolis, said people who need immediate help should call, no matter what.

"People should make no mistake that if they need shelter now, we'll make sure they get shelter now," said O'Connor, whose facility has been at capacity without any dips since the end of last summer. "I don't want anybody to be under any kind of impression that they shouldn't call to ask for help if they need help."

Those whose lives aren't in immediate danger are often told there's no room or are placed on waiting lists. And once they get shelter, their stays often are limited to 30 or 45 days.

Though some victims can then go into longer-term transitional housing, Indianapolis has only 46 such units. The wait times can stretch to a year.

Some victims wind up staying with friends or relatives while they wait, while others remain with their abuser.

Advocates say they need more resources. Funding for not-for-profits is still a challenge even though the economy has improved since 2009.

"There's no doubt" the need for beds is there, said Mark Sattler, director of counseling and addiction services at Families First. "And I think that will consistently be a problem until we have the funding, if you will, to increase beds."

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