Following a local domestic violence shelter closing its doors, Adams County officials are jumping in to bring “a trained and experienced after-hours advocate” to assist those in need.
The Adams County Salary Board, comprised of the three commissioners and a person from the controller’s office, Wednesday approved adding a full-time advocate position to the Adams County Victim Witness Program to help local domestic violence victims. The position will also assist victims of sexual assault and human trafficking, officials said.
“This action is in response to the sudden dissolution of Survivors Inc., the closing of the shelter, and the termination of after-hours advocacy services due to the insolvency of the program,” according to a press release issued by the county.
Cindy Keeney, director of the Adams County Victim’s Witness Program, requested the position be added until a new domestic violence and sexual assault agency is formed.
“Victims come with trauma symptoms and safety concerns,” Keeney said. “These victims should not wait for services to be provided on the next business day or through a phone call.”
This new position would work from 4:30 p.m. to 8 a.m. and on weekends, according to Keeney, who noted that advocates are typically paged through the 9-1-1 center.
Domestic violence calls are now being directed to a national hotline number and sexual assault calls are going to a York organization for services, Keeney said.
Going through a national hotline, people may need to wait until the next day to hear back, while the wait on a call to York is a minimum of an hour to two hours “as opposed to an immediate, in-person response,” Keeney said.
People needing services have been previously told to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or Hotline.org, and those experiencing an emergency should call 9-1-1, according to Julie Bancroft, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV).
PCADV hopes to have new hotline numbers installed by Friday and available 24 hours a day “despite what was said at the commissioners’ meeting,” Bancroft said Wednesday.
The YWCA York-Victim Assistance Center will provide support services for victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault who live in Adams County, according to a release on the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) website. Those seeking help in Adams County can call 1-888-772-PCAR for assistance or visit pcar.org for more information, according to PCAR.
The Adams County Victim Witness Program has an open part-time advocate position available in its budget to absorb the cost of the new role, according to Keeney.
“I will work to secure grant funding from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to cover the expenses of this position going forward,” Keeney said.
Keeney’s staff will provide “back-up” assistance when the person in the position is not available, noting two of her advocates have worked in domestic violence and sexual assault shelters prior to their time in the victim witness program, she said.
The position is intended to be used “until something else is in place.”
“I am confident that this Adams County community, with caring, hardworking, generous and knowledgeable members, can rebuild a new provider and the full spectrum of services can once again be available in the county,” Keeney said. “Healthy Adams County is willing to host a community meeting regarding these services and facilitate a work group moving forward to rebuild.”
Following Wednesday’s approval, the human resources department and victim witness office “will move forward with haste with a qualified advocate as soon as possible,” Adams County Solicitor Molly Mudd said after the meeting.
Adams County Commissioner Marty Qually abstained from the motion relating to Survivors. Mudd said Qually will continue to abstain from matters involving the nonprofit “because of personal involvement in the organization.”
“He is doing the right thing and has made the right decision,” Mudd said.
Community leaders spoke out Wednesday during the commissioners’ meeting in support of this advocate position.
Megan Shreve, chief executive officer of South Central Community Action Programs (SCCAP), said she was “startled” to find out about Survivors closing, not through the typical channels.
SCCAP stepped in to assist six households from the domestic violence shelter in need, Shreve said.
PCADV “put pressure” on the program and on social services in Adams County, according to Shreve.
“We are under resourced here,” Shreve said, noting it was “astounding” to lose the only other shelter in the county in “less than a two-week time frame.”
Gettysburg Times Managing Editor Alex Hayes, who served as a board member on Survivors Inc., noted the work the board of directors completed within four months, from working with contractors to get items “in line” to donating “thousands of dollars in labor and materials to a long-neglected shelter.”
“Unfortunately, a separate nonprofit with a state contract, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, had too many cards in its hand and was able to pull the plug while refusing to discuss matters with the locals who had a deeper understanding of the situation,” Hayes said.
PCADV is the state contractor for domestic violence services, and with state and federal pass-through dollars, partially funds, as subrecipients, 59 nonprofit domestic violence programs across the commonwealth, according the organization’s release.
PCADV does not provide services directly, but “we have a responsibility” to make sure services are available in every county, Bancroft said.
Hayes asked the commissioners “to become champions of a local solution” with this new position.
Commissioner Chairman Randy Phiel noted his support in a press release for the victim advocate position.
“Victims of domestic violence in Adams County deserve the immediate, in-person support that our after-hours advocate will provide. No matter when a call comes in, no matter the day of the week, or the time of day, the county’s experienced advocates will put the needs of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault first,” Phiel said.
“The after-hours advocate can be reached by calling 9-1-1 and asking for the on-call advocate to be paged,” the release indicated.