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Helpmate Plans To Expand Emergency Shelter In Asheville

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A domestic violence agency in Asheville recently acquired more than seven acres of land to build a new housing facility for survivors of abuse. It comes as the need for domestic violence services continues to grow in Buncombe County. 

Social distancing measures put in place last year limited the amount of survivors fleeing abusive partners that could stay in Helpmate’s emergency shelter. A local hotel stepped in and offered to provide rooms.

It was a godsend, says Helpmate executive director April Burgess-Johnson, but not a sustainable solution for the long-term. 

"The need is consistently high. It’s risen in Buncombe County almost every year for the past decade. The pandemic was especially hard on domestic violence victims," she said.

One of the services in particular that Helpmate provides, assisting survivors with creating an escape plan, saw a 73 percent increase in demand in the last three years. 

But amidst the chaos of the pandemic and challenges with federal funding, Helpmate is planning to expand its own emergency shelter. In December, the non-profit acquired seven and a half acres within Asheville city limits. They’re currently designing a facility that would essentially double the size of its current capacity.

"Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children… to be safe and get set up and stabilized then we can prevent some of the chronic homelessness that we see becoming an ongoing issue in our community," Burgess-Johnson said.  

Burgess-Johnson says Helpmate is preparing to launch a capital campaign in the months ahead.

The announcement comes as agencies that support victims of domestic violence across the country face mounting financial strain, stemming from a change in a federal law that made it unclear where money that typically funds these services should go. 

For agencies across North Carolina that assist victims of domestic violence, that ambiguity has meant a shortfall of millions of dollars -- $108 million in 2018, to just under $35 million this year.

“So that’s the bad news. The good news is it’s a temporary hill we have to climb. Those fines and penalties will start going back to the fund. It’s just getting through the period that’s going to be a remarkable challenge,” Burgess-Johnson said.

Last month, Congress passed a bipartisan measure to fix the wording in the Crime Victims Fund Act. But in the meantime, providers like HelpMate are having to find ways to stretch dollars until the next allocation. Burgess-Johnson says they’ve had to reduce staff and trim all of Helpmate’s services, which have seen heightened demand during the pandemic.

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