Missoulian: Five Missoula agencies get federal money for domestic violence, victim services

by Zoë Buchli

Several organizations in Missoula are slated to get another round of federal funds to strengthen services for domestic violence survivors.

“If we want to break cycles of violence, we have to provide services,” said Shantelle Gaynor, director of Missoula’s Community Justice Department. Gaynor oversees the Crime Victim Advocate Program, which is one of five Missoula agencies getting money this year from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).

The Missoula City Attorney’s Office, the Watson Children’s Shelter, the Missoula YWCA and Providence St. Patrick Hospital’s First Step Resource Center are also recipients.

Missoula’s Crime Victim Advocate Program will get $196,000, which Gaynor said covers the salaries of both the county’s civil and criminal advocate positions. Advocates help victims and survivors (and their families) navigate the legal system and find services. They also aid with facilitating reports to law enforcement, if a survivor chooses to do so, Gaynor said.

Roughly 50% of advocates’ case loads deal with domestic violence, according to Gaynor. The other half includes sexual violence, stalking and harassment cases.

The Pathways Program at Missoula’s YWCA is set to receive $194,000. The dollars support staff costs, which keep the program going, Executive Director Jen Euell said. Pathways helps women and families experiencing violence get services and basic needs, like food and shelter, met.

“It’s a really important funding source and a good chunk of money for services,” Euell said.

Mark Roberts, executive director of the Watson Children’s Shelter, said the money helps case managers at the shelter do trauma-informed work with children facing abuse, neglect or abandonment. Watson is set to get $250,000 from VOCA, parceled out over two years for the shelter’s three case manager positions.

VOCA money has served as a reliable source to fund various programs around Missoula for years, but the amount awarded to recipients is shrinking. Gaynor and Euell said their agencies are receiving fewer VOCA dollars in 2023 than in years past, putting pressure on local leaders to come up with the funds elsewhere.

Decreased money from the federal government requires either fewer services or investments of local money, Gaynor said.

“Reducing services is a terrible option,” she said.

Millions of dollars are deposited annually into the VOCA fund from criminal fines, penalties, forfeited bail bonds and special assessments collected by the federal government, Gaynor explained. Crime Victim Fund dollars are generated by people or corporations convicted of federal crimes.

Euell echoed concerns about a portion of federal funds drying up. Though VOCA continues to be the core source of funding for the Pathways Program, the YWCA has turned to donations and money awarded by the state to fill in gaps created by diminished federal dollars.

She said in 2020, YWCA provided services for 1,044 people. By 2022, that number jumped to 1,796, but the nonprofit got nearly $315,000 in VOCA money in its last funding round as opposed to $194,000 this year.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester announced 2023’s allocation of Montana crime victim money last week. A total of $4.9 million will be divided by the Montana Board of Crime Control between various private and public agencies throughout the state.

“Every day, Montana’s domestic violence shelters, victim advocates, and other crime victim service groups provide life-changing services and treatments to folks across the state,” said Tester in the news release. “This funding will provide these top-notch organizations with the resources and support they need to ensure our hard-working victim advocates can keep helping Montana survivors recover, heal, and thrive for years to come.”