Ulster County helps survivors of domestic violence with COVID funds

To aid in recovery from the pandemic, counties and municipalities have been able to allocate funds from the American Rescue Plan Act as they wish, within federal guidelines. In Ulster County, that included helping victims of domestic violence.

In May, the county awarded $187,700 in short-term assistance grants to low-income domestic violence survivors who are pregnant or have children through the Ulster County Crime Victims Assistance Program (CVAP).

“The programs always ask us what we should do for domestic violence survivors to help them be safe in their homes or move out of their homes to support themselves,” said CVAP supervisor Sharon Lyons. “This is something that comes up all the time. People need immediate funds, not funds that are hard to reach, to get out of situations. We always ask for flexible funds that don’t have a lot of bureaucracy.”

The CVAP funds helped 72 families who had emergency housing related to domestic violence, mainly by getting people into safe housing or by stabilizing their existing housing. It also paid for other essential needs such as children’s clothing and food. Survivors were able to move house, buy camera alarm systems for their homes, leave hotels or other temporary housing, avoid eviction and buy beds for their children.

“There were a lot of beds that people needed,” Lyons said. “When people suddenly leave their homes or have to go to a shelter to wait for a new home, they have to give up a lot of their belongings and it is very difficult to get back to work, especially with families.”

CVAP helped identify survivors of domestic violence and provided them with flexible financing directly – in most cases through check or gift cards. Help was provided with renting for some people in dire need.

“No domestic violence survivor should not be able to afford to be safe,” said Pat Ryan, Ulster County executive director. “With these funds, families will receive the support they need to get out of a crisis and focus on building a home for themselves that is free of violence.”

The mothers, who wished to remain anonymous, were grateful for the subsidies.

“With this money I can leave the city. My abusive ex-partner recently found out where I live and now I can move,” said a mother of one child.

“This is going to help me a lot. I can finally buy myself a bed. I’ve been sleeping on my couch ever since my two granddaughters moved in because their mother didn’t give them a safe home,” said a grandmother who took in two abused children.

There was no per-person cap on funding and it was distributed based on an internal assessment to determine the specific financial needs of applicant families. To qualify, survivors or someone in their household had to receive TANF, SNAP, or Medicaid, and the household had to be below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand that there are so many complex reasons why people in domestic violence situations don’t leave,” Lyons says. “Finances are huge. It’s hard when you depend on someone for income, especially if you have kids, to just get up and leave without any kind of means to support your family.”

For CVAP employees, offering this help to the families was a moment to celebrate. “It was equally wonderful for our staff here,” Lyons said. “We meet people in hospitals, sometimes on site, and help people out and into temporary housing. We’re always dealing with people when things get this bad. To be able to hand people a check for four or five thousand dollars and to just help people out of this… the staff was in such a good mood. We don’t get the chance to give money to people we know need it.”

However, she hopes that additional funding can be allocated to the program each year.

“It’s a constant need all the time,” Lyons said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with domestic violence, call the Ulster County Crime Victims Assistance Program at 845-340-3443 for resources and support. All calls are confidential and will not be reported to the police.

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