We need to clear up some confusion

Published 12:05 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2024

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As the Vice-President for Housing at STEPS, Inc., I work every day with Linda Ellis-Williams our program coordinator for domestic violence and sexual assault victim services to see to it that calls for help from victims are answered quickly and effectively. That’s why I was troubled by an opinion article published on April 24 by Amy Nardini about STEPS not responding timely to domestic violence victim calls. However, I do agree that the support for Madeline’s House that Ms. Nardini called for continues to be needed. 

I also welcome the opportunity to address a possible misconception about what we have been doing since Madeline’s House was closed. While it is true that we have awaited operational funding from state and federal sources to reopen it, we have not waited to deliver services to victims in the interim. It started in late November 2022 when I got the call from the state domestic violence hotline that Madeline’s House was closing, asking what STEPS could do to help domestic violence victims get to a safe shelter or other location with family or friends. 

We did not hesitate to commit immediately to provide this help through the continued work of our homeless services staff and then with the arrival of Ms. Ellis-Williams in late August 2023. We answer these calls for help on a 24-hour 7 day a week basis through our homeless housing line at 1-855-955-5501. 

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You can also call our main number (434-315-5909) during regular business hours to speak with our housing staff. We are receiving calls from victims during the day and at all hours of the night. Once we have received operational funds to reopen Madeline’s House, we will be able to establish a dedicated hotline for domestic violence and sexual assault victims separate from our homeless housing line. When victims call us, we assure that they make it to safe shelter, provide court advocacy where Ms. Ellis-Williams helps victims navigate the court system, and connect them to whatever resources are needed to maintain a safe living situation. Thus far since we agreed to do this in November 2022, STEPS has served 50 adults and 42 children in 59 households. 

I regret if Ms. Mitchell was not able to talk with Ms. Ellis-Williams as quickly as she wanted. We were happy to assist her with providing the information she requested for her class project, and wish her all the best in her academic and life endeavors. However, Ms. Mitchell’s call was not treated as a call from a victim (appropriately so), and for Ms. Nardini to equate the time that Ms. Mitchell stated she had waited with our response time to victims is not a fair or accurate comparison. It can also discourage victims who read her comparison from calling us, which is one reason why I have taken the time to respond to it like this. Ms. Ellis-Williams and the housing team are covering 6 counties with these services while we await operational funding for Madeline’s House. Victim calls and their safety get priority over requests for information. 

You might ask how we were able to hire a coordinator for DV/SA services and provide shelter and transportation to victims without federal and state operational funds. 

It is because the Board of Supervisors in the six counties we serve stepped up to provide us with funding that covers the great majority of what it has taken to do this along with a small grant from the Virginia Department of Social Services. The counties we serve are Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Nottoway, and Prince Edward, and they deserve great credit for providing what was needed to make these services possible. 

STEPS is also grateful for the community’s generosity with financial, volunteer, and in-kind support to get Madeline’s House ready to be reopened. We have said all along that we needed state and federal funding to reopen. The time for us to receive it is getting closer, and when we have confirmed that we have it, we will make sure the community knows as soon as possible. 

As Ms. Nardini asserted in her article, we continue to need your support now and after the shelter is operational. 

SHAWN ROZIER is Vice President for Housing at STEPS Inc. He can be reached at srozier@steps-inc.org.