Lawmakers unanimously approve expanded presence of domestic violence shelters

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The need is critical. When it comes to domestic violence, most agree turning people away is inexcusable.

So Indiana lawmakers did something you rarely see in political circles. They voted unanimously to do something about it.

Turning people away is not an option and yet Indiana has only 37 residential shelters serving all 92 counties.

The State of Indiana is very close to saying there is no room in the inn for victims of domestic violence. In Marion County, the need is critical. It has been at overflow capacity for two years now.

"Triage. If a victim is in immediate danger, we will find a place for the victim to be. Whether here in the shelter or a couch. We have an arrangement with a hotel. We work a network of shelters to try and find a place for them to be," Catherine O'Connor told the Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee.

O'Connor is the Executive Director at the Julian Center in Indianapolis.

Statistically, all across the state, only two to three percent of the victims who need shelter can get it.

"We can't shelter more because we don't have more beds than that," Laura Berry with the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence testified Wednesday.

Indiana's 92 counties are currently being served by just 37 residential shelters,which means counties like Clinton, Tipton, Boone, Hamilton and Johnson counties have to send domestic violence victims who need shelter to neighboring counties.

"You'll see there are 33 counties on that map who have nothing. They have no physical presence. Doesn't mean they are not covered by a shelter for the service area, but there is no physical presence in those counties," Berry continued.

The House Committee got the message loud and clear Wednesday.

"It is a priority for us in our service areas with no physical presence to get physical presence located there," Berry concluded.

Last year, domestic violence calls increased by 29 percent, while both staffing and funding decreased. The hope is this additional funding will help address that. Currently, there are 19 non-residential domestic violence programs and 18 satellite domestic violence programs. All programs are operating up to 240 percent over capacity.

"We served 11,000 victims in shelters last year. Adults and children. We turned away 1,743 because we didn't have beds for them. We lost 67 people due to domestic violence last year," Berry revealed.

That is more than a statistic. It is staggering.

The bill that passed out of committee would increase the allotment to $5 million a year for the next two years. The next stop for the measure will be the Ways and Means Committee, since it is a spending measure.