UPPER MARLBORO – As the Prince George’s County Council Domestic Violence Grant Program begins to receive applications, two area nonprofits are planning to merge to better assist victims with housing and informational needs better.
Family Crisis Center of Prince George’s County (FCC), who currently host the county’s only emergency shelter, and Community Crisis Services, Inc. (CCSi) will be combining forces by the end of October, according to FCC Interim Director Michelle Williams.
“They are a wonderful organization, and throughout the years, they have done a tremendous amount of work, and we would like to continue the good work that we have already done and expand on that,” CCSi Development Director William Leary said. “We will bring our own brand of professionalism and oversight to the organization.”
The union between the two organizations will allow domestic violence victims to have more access to information either via a phone call or during their stay at the Safe Passage shelter, Williams said. This comes after concerns of FCC’s handling of the shelter, which was found with growing mold and mice infestations in December, forcing the removal of then-director Sophie Ford.
The shelter was closed for two months to address “safety concerns” and to start a remodel process. It has since been reopened on Feb. 9 while interior improvements were being finished up. Final exterior work should be completed in the upcoming months, Williams said.
FCC was given one of the eight different grants awarded last year, receiving the most money with $108,630. However, with the impending merger, FCC will not apply for a grant, Williams said.
CCSi is a one-stop “information and referral” calling center that provides people in crisis connections with aid organizations. Last year, they attempted to start support groups with their grant, but low turnout caused to change their goals to make personal relationships with victims.
“We provided extra hotline services through our agency… and our (domestic violence calls) were up by a lot,” Leary said. “Our domestic violence specialists would follow up with each individual up to 30 days to make sure they are safe, check their legal situations and (etc.).”
Leary confirmed CCSi will be applying for the grant this year to continue the checkup system via their hotline service but will enhance their request with a housing component.
The Council Grant will be entering its third consecutive year with the grand total of $500,000, in funds distributed to nonprofits. County Council Chair Dannielle Glaros said the funding comes directly from the county’s 2019 fiscal year general budget. The application opened on Aug. 1 and goes through Sept. 6.
After the deadline, a proposal analysis team selected by the Council Administration chooses the recipients of the grants and the final amounts each organization will receive, Public Information Officer Angela Rouson said. Organizations applying for the grant must state how the funds will meet the needs of victims of domestic violence in either housing, prevention, counseling and/or advocacy. Applicants may apply to more than one category.
With the county continuing to have only one official shelter, Glaros said she wished more nonprofits would apply to provide more housing needs. She revealed that the Council plans to propose additional money for social and family services dedicated for accommodations for displaced victims. In last year’s grant process, only one organization, St. Matthew’s Housing Corporation, received $35,100 in funds last year under the housing category.
“Every county needs a Family Crisis Center (shelter) but needs more than one or a few housing options for domestic violence survivors,” Glaros said. “Our grants can focus on housing for nonprofits, but we are looking on how we can engage housing opportunities directly with our agencies.”
The lack of more shelter and housing opportunities for domestic violence victims became a political talking point during the Democratic primary race for county executive. Candidate Donna Edwards expressed disappointment in the county’s efforts in providing a better housing situation for victims in a domestic violence luncheon in Landover on June 2.
“I believe we should have shelters in every single region of the county,” the former congresswoman said. “If you are in the (southern part of the) county, you are not driving all the way up the center part of the county, and that may mean you have to displace your kids away from their schools and all the rest (they know).”
The Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence reports that between July 2016 and July 2017, 46 people died in Maryland from intimate partner violence with 31 victims. Prince George’s had five domestic violence deaths in that span, a decrease after leading the state in domestic violence deaths in consecutive years, totaling 32 deaths between July 2014-June 2016.
In some cases, victims rely on their abuser for money and shelter, forcing them to return to a dangerous situation. Nonprofits try to provide educational training on finding housing, new employment, and legal aid to keep victims safe, Williams said.
“A lot of victims of domestic violence have to return to their abuser and cannot figure out how to find housing on their own,” Williams said. “We have been able to help a significant amount of people find other housing options to keep them safe and prevent them from returning to their abuser for lack of housing.”
Mergers and partnerships are encouraged, Glaros said, to better serve victims with enough information that will help them get back to living a healthy life. After the allocated funding in each grant was announced last year, FCC announced a partnership with Community Legal Services Prince George’s County.
The collaboration would have allowed for their full-time staff attorney, Norah Sloss, to visit the Safe Passage shelter to provide legal services to victims. However, its remodel forced victims to move out and offered limited opportunities for on-site legal counsel, according to Executive Director of the Community Legal Services Jessica Quincosa. Current grant plans have both organizations attempting to work together this year despite last year’s struggles, Quincosa said.