By Shelby Harris, originally published by Carolina Public Press. Carolina Public Press is an independent, in-depth and investigative nonprofit news service for North Carolina.
If a person living in Jackson County types “domestic violence shelters near me” into Google, the first link that pops up is for the Center for Domestic Peace, or C4DP.
If that person is a victim of domestic violence seeking help, she or he likely let out a sigh of relief when reading about the Sylva nonprofit that offers victim support services.
But that respite likely vanishes when that person — victim — is told that the only thing C4DP can offer is a potential connection at the nearest domestic violence shelter an hour away.
“It’s just mind-boggling to think you’ve experienced this horrific, horrific thing — the worst day of your life — and then, there’s somebody sitting there telling you, ‘Well, there’s nowhere for you to go live,’” said C4DP Executive Director Wes Myers.
Center for Domestic Peace staff sends victims to shelters throughout Western North Carolina, specifically REACH of Macon County. In extreme situations, the center will provide hotel rooms.
But these options are both expensive and time-consuming, and victims, who may be in immediate danger, have no choice but to wait the hours it could take for C4DP to secure housing for them.
“We have local clients that call us, and we start suggesting, ‘Hey, why don’t you look at a shelter in another county?’ and they tend to draw back,” Myers said.
“That removes them from the support system. That removes them from their child’s school. That removes them from their job and makes transportation more difficult.”
CD4P staff will no longer have to relay this discouraging news to victims seeking help in coming years as Jackson County will soon have its own domestic violence shelter, courtesy of federal COVID-19 pandemic relief money.
$4.2M building funded through partnerships
Shortly after receiving the first half of its roughly $8.5 million American Rescue Plan Act allotment, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted to use the money, which the federal government designed to pull communities from the pandemic’s wreckage, to construct a domestic violence shelter just outside downtown Sylva.
Jackson County Manager Don Adams said the decision to use the funds for victim services was unanimous, and county officials got to work with Dogwood Health Trust to secure funding for the project.
“[ARPA funding] is a tool,” Adams said, “one tool among many tools that a board of commissioners has to meet the needs of our community.”
Dogwood Health Trust, which funds a plethora of social service providers in Western North Carolina, agreed to match Jackson County’s nearly $2.2 million commitment to the project. The total cost of the shelter is roughly $4.2 million.
“Transitional shelter is often a key step for individuals or families who are seeking safe, permanent homes,” Dogwood CEO Dr. Susan Mims said.
“Support for shelters for those experiencing domestic partner violence is one of several ways that Dogwood is working toward a goal to create and preserve supportive housing units across the region.”
The Center for Domestic Peace, the current provider for all of Jackson County’s domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking services, will run the shelter. In addition to grants and donations, C4DP is run in part by the county, Myers said.
The shelter will not only provide emergency housing, but the 20-bed facility also will give victims access to 24/7 staff who will provide counseling, transportation and social services.
A permanent domestic violence shelter is a welcome addition to Jackson County. The community went more than 10 years without one after REACH of Jackson County closed in 2011.
“There’s a host of negative factors that we simply can’t overcome without a brick-and-mortar shelter,” Myers said.
Federal money for a local shelter
A domestic violence shelter aligns with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s guidelines for using money from the American Rescue Plan Act, which was disbursed to communities based on population.
Infrastructure improvements and expansion of human services, which both coincide with the establishment of a domestic violence center, are among the approved ARPA expenditures. Jackson County officials have approved only one other project to be funded through ARPA — body cameras and tasers for sheriff’s deputies.
While other Western North Carolina localities have opted to use ARPA for expansion of anti-domestic violence resources, Jackson County is the first that Carianne Fisher, executive director for the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has seen dedicate the funds to a new shelter.
“One of the most important things for the public to keep in mind is that everyone knows someone who has experienced domestic violence,” Fisher said, citing that one in four women and one in seven men experience domestic violence.
“So, when you’re thinking about government funding to set up a shelter in your community, you have to think that someone you know probably needs these services.”
The target completion date for the shelter is late 2023, Myers said. Officials from Jackson County, Dogwood and C4DP are still in the planning phases of construction. Students from Western Carolina University — also located in Jackson County — will provide the facility’s interior design, which is being specially drafted to account for social distancing, if necessary.
The new shelter will not only be equipped to handle mandates that accompany a pandemic, but it will also provide Jackson County victims of domestic violence with the means to escape abuse.
It will mean no victim seeking help will have to have to hear that the only refuge is 40 miles away.
“Just imagine how much better services are going to be for domestic violence victims now,” Myers said.
If you or anyone you know living in Jackson County is experiencing domestic violence, sexual abuse or human trafficking, the Center for Domestic Peace’s 24/7 hotline can be reached at 828-586-1237. The number for the National Domestic Violence hotline is 800-799-7233.