Each time a domestic violence survivor enters a Missouri shelter, two more survivors find there is not enough space for them.

Each time a domestic violence survivor enters a Missouri shelter, two more survivors find there is not enough space for them.

Missouri’s turn-away rate for domestic violence survivors has remained at a two-to-one ratio for several years, according to the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV) — the statewide coalition that requests more funding for programs and services and joins with other state agencies to assist domestic violence survivors, MCADSV Communications Director Emily Truscott said. From the time a victim seeks emergency services from a shelter to the amount of opportunities available after they leave the facility, various factors drive the turn-away rate and agencies and lawmakers are exploring ways to better help victims.

The shortage of available shelter bed space and services affects the Northeast region along with the rest of the state, AVENUES Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Heidi Coleman said. In 2014, 685 people entered shelters in the Northeast region. But 899 people were turned away in the same area because a shelter was full, according to information from MCADSV.

The Northeast region encompasses seven counties and includes 112 total beds. Shelters like AVENUES have “great proponents for us” in Missouri, but there isn’t enough funding available for building new shelters or hiring additional staff members. Currently, all of the state money goes toward helping people who are already receiving services, instead of covering administrative costs. AVENUES staff members regularly seek state grants to bolster existing services, Coleman said.

AVENUES holds nine women and children, and the facility has been full for three months in a row. After two people left the shelter in October, two people filled the vacant beds within 24 hours. When a shelter is full, staff members connect with the closest available shelter, in communities including Mexico, Moberly, Troy and Quincy, Ill., Coleman said.

For rural areas like Northeast Missouri, shelters are spread out over a greater distance than in metropolitan regions. When a person is referred to another shelter, obtaining transportation is often a challenge. Also, since shelters are full across the state, a staff member from one shelter often calls a shelter with no available beds, Truscott said. Emergency shelters aren’t the only areas in need of a boost — more housing opportunities could benefit survivors of domestic violence, Truscott said.

“For example, if a woman leaving an abusive relationship could find temporary rental assistance or help with a deposit on a new apartment, she may not need to live in a shelter,” Truscott said. “But shortages in those services often leave people without anywhere to go except to a shelter.”

MCADSV staff members serve on the Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness, encouraging collaboration between shelters and housing providers. Survivors need more housing options, including transitional housing after leaving the shelter, temporary housing and permanent housing. When survivors can’t find independent housing options, many of them face the choice of returning to an abusive relationship or homelessness, Truscott said.

In the Northeast region, AVENUES works closely with local organizations including Mark Twain Behavioral Health, Preferred Family Healthcare and Hannibal Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, Coleman said.

Hannibal Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (HCADA) offers residential and outpatient substance dependency programs. Domestic violence survivors attend the programs if they have a substance dependency, due to state funding. Often, substance abuse and domestic abuse are intertwined, Executive Director Jennifer Wilson said.

Additionally, HCADA staff members work with AVENUES to refer clients from other parts of the state to resources in their home communities. HCADA conducts two residential substance dependency programs, with one program designed for women and children. Women receive treatment for substance abuse and domestic abuse, without the co-ed composition of other programs in Missouri, Wilson said.

“That way, it provides a lot of specialized care for women in general,” Wilson said.

Substance dependency and domestic abuse both operate in similar cycles, so HCADA staff works to break that cycle. Otherwise, the behavioral patterns are passed down to children, Wilson said.

Preferred Family Healthcare staff provide mental health and substance abuse services, and they connect domestic abuse victims with AVENUES, Preferred Family Healthcare Clinical Manager Christy Power said.

Members of the community need to “leave stereotypes behind” and be aware of the level of trauma a survivor endures. On average, a woman makes seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship. Victims stay in the relationship because of factors that include their children, fear or a situation where it is more dangerous to leave than to stay, Power said. Recent state legislation focused on increasing funding for services and housing options affecting domestic violence survivors, Truscott said.

The state budget included an additional $28 million in federal funds from Victims of Crime Act grants. The grants help shelters and providers like AVENUES add staff members, hire advocates to form safety plans for survivors and connect with additional services in the community, Truscott said.

Years ago, program funding came from a court surcharge of $2 for each criminal court case, unless the case was dismissed or state, county or municipalities paid the fee. County courts collect the money to give to local shelters, Truscott said. In 2015, Missouri Revised Statute 488.607.1 gave counties the option to increase the surcharge to $4 for counties or communities that have a shelter or have domestic violence victims seeking services in another county’s shelter. Marion County collects the $4 surcharge as specified Marion County District 2 Circuit Clerk Carolyn Conners said.

The fee remains $2 in Ralls County. A vote by Ralls County Commissioners would be necessary for a fee increase, Ralls County Clerk Gina Jameson said.

Hannibal City Council members approved increasing the fee in January, after AVENUES Executive Director Judy Edmonson sent a letter requesting the increase, according to previous Courier-Post reporting. Marion County opted to increase the surcharge to $4, Conners said.

As state and local organizations continue to work together to help domestic violence victims, Missouri’s elected officials made decisions to expand current services and programs.

The Missouri Housing Commission offers a low-income housing tax credit, and one-third of those credits go to projects that benefit people with special needs. In 2015, the definition of special needs grew to include victims of domestic violence, prompted by Treasurer Clint Zweifel’s recommendation. “Hopefully, this will encourage more developers to build projects that are available to and supportive of domestic violence victims,” Truscott said.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com .