Leaders regroup after setback for domestic violence shelter

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Community leaders pushing to open a domestic violence shelter in Hamilton County are regrouping after a key partner opted to step back into a supporting role.

As IBJ reported last year, proponents were working on a multi-year, multimillion-dollar plan to serve residents who need emergency housing because of abuse at home—a problem officials say has been growing along with the county’s population.

“We still need [a shelter], and the need is only going to increase,” said Noblesville Police Chief Kevin Jowitt, who is leading a core group working to advance the initiative.

Early plans called for Anderson-based Alternatives Inc. to extend its services south, opening a second shelter in Noblesville. Its 48-bed Anderson facility has served 75 Hamilton County families fleeing abuse in the past year and a half, officials told county commissioners in July.

But Alternatives’ leaders decided to let the locals take the lead in lining up financing and other resources necessary to build and run a shelter.

“They did not feel comfortable being the lead agency,” in part because of the potential conflict between fund-raising for a new shelter and Alternatives’ existing operations, said County Commissioner Christine Altman, a member of the planning group.

Still, Alternatives remains involved on an advisory level, Jowitt said—an important consideration given its 30 years of experience in the shelter business—and could come on board as a contract service provider once plans come to fruition.

Ownership and governance of the future facility are among details that still need to be determined. Altman said organizers likely will seek to create a tax-exempt organization that can accept public donations and oversee the project.

Officials also are planning to visit an Indianapolis shelter for women and children operated by the Salvation Army’s Indiana Division to get a feel for its operations (and partnership potential), Altman and Jowitt said.

“We’re trying to get the groundwork laid so we can keep this moving forward,” Jowitt said.  “It is just time to narrow our focus in a few areas” such as identifying a location, a business plan and a funding mechanism.

The county commissioners last year offered up a potential site for the facility: 3.8 acres of county-owned land along Cumberland Road in Noblesville, just south of the jail complex. Building a shelter there was expected to cost about $5 million, with another $500,000 a year needed to operate it.

Jowitt said the planning group is exploring other options, too, including the possibility of remodeling an existing building elsewhere.

Either way, “it’s not an inexpensive proposition,” he said.

A 2010 community assessment conducted by United Way of Central Indiana identified emergency housing as the No. 1 unmet need in Hamilton County. Jowitt said Hamilton is the only one of the state’s 10-most-populated counties without a shelter.

“It’s still a definite need in our community, and we want to see something happen,” said Fishers Town Manager (and Mayor Elect) Scott Fadness, who is part of the planning group and serves on Alternatives’ board. “The time has come.”

“We can do better,” Jowitt agreed.

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