DV programs: Awareness improving, action lagging
By Shondiin Silversmith and Cindy Yurth
CHINLE and SHIPROCK, Oct. 17, 2013
(Times photo — Cindy Yurth)
Amá dóó Alchini Bighan in Chinle is out of purple ribbons.
It's Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and everybody wants to show where they stand.
That's a good thing.
But it's easy to pin on a purple ribbon.
How well do we on the Navajo Nation support our shamefully few domestic violence programs the other 11 months of the year?
To find out, the Navajo Times checked in on ADABI, Todenasshai Shelter Home in Kayenta, and Home for Women and Children in Shiprock.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so the staff of five and eight volunteers over at Ama doo Alchini Bighan are busy making purple ribbons to give away, hosting events and crafting displays.
It's also ADABI Director Lorena Halwood's most frustrating month of the year.
Oct. 1 is the start of the Navajo Nation's fiscal year and should be the month ADABI receives the federal pass-through grant from the tribe that comprises its main source of funding.
But it never, ever is.
"I've been here 16 years, and every year it's the same story," Halwood complained.
"You would think they'd have it together by now."
The story is this: By April or May, Halwood turns in all the information the tribe needs to write the proposal.
By mid-summer, when she has not heard anything, she calls the Division of Social Services.
"I say, 'What can we do to help move the process along?'" she said.
She's told the grant is in the SAS process, the elaborate desk-hopping signature approval system it seems every piece of paper on the Navajo Nation must go through.
"After that, it goes to DOJ (Department of Justice)," Halwood said. "I have no idea why. What do they have to do with it?"
According to Halwood, the grant generally sits at DOJ for weeks or months.
It finally comes through the following April or May, an entire year after she has initiated the paperwork.
In the meantime, she is often forced to furlough her staff.
"Then, when we finally get it, we have five months to spend it all," she said. "They don't give us the same amount of leeway they give themselves."
When people ask Halwood if ADABI needs more money, she says "Sure."
But, she said, she'd gladly settle for the program being able to get its hands on the money it already has coming.
Fortunately, ADABI won a $25,000 grant from Mary Kay Cosmetics this year and has some other private funding that will help tide it over.
Local businesses have stepped forward to help fund the awareness events, and the family of Navajo Nation Police Sgt.
Darrell Curley, who was killed responding to a domestic violence incident in 2011, gave a donation plus two big boxes of plastic bags filled with baby blankets, baby clothes and toiletries, into each of which is tucked a moving letter explaining that the donation is in honor of a family member who became a casualty of DV.
As for the Navajo Nation government, "Speaker Naize and President Shelly are very supportive," she said, but the Council could do more.
"I'd like to see them all wear purple to a session one day," she said.
"I'd like to see them talk about domestic violence not just this month, but all year round."
Based on comments she's heard and read, Halwood wonders just how educated the Council members are on the Navajo Nation's domestic violence programs.
"I wonder," she mused, "if they even know how many shelters we have" - two; ADABI doesn't have a shelter, just a network of volunteer safe houses - "and where they're located" -- Shiprock and Kayenta.
Speaking of which, Halwood said there's a drastic need for more.
"There's nothing in Window Rock," she said.
"Ganado: nothing. Even Tuba City: nothing there."
So the three existing programs spread themselves thin.
Halwood was recently asked to give a talk all the way in Leupp, more than two hours from Chinle, and she did.
"We will do our best to help out wherever we're asked," she promised.
In return, she'd like some help from the community.
At the moment, ADABI could use coloring books, crayons, games, kiddie videos - "anything to distract the children," she said.
Diapers and children's clothes are always in demand, as "most families leave with just the clothes on their back."
Her big dream: a playground so the children can stay occupied and get some exercise while their moms are conferring with counselors.
On the plus side, the program has racked up eight "wonderful" volunteers, some of whom originally came to ADABI as victims.
"We have an excellent partnership with both law enforcement and the hospital," Halwood said, noting that police officers at the Chinle station have taken domestic violence response training and the Chinle Comprehensive Health Facility has trained seven nurses as "SANEs" (sexual assault nurse examiners).
"I'll stand behind our officers," Halwood said.
In fact, ADABI is throwing them a breakfast on the 22nd.
DNA has promised ADABI an on-site attorney, something that will save a lot of staff time driving clients to legal appointments.
Both the Navajo Nation Violence Against Families Act and the federal Violence Against Women Act passed in the last two years, although Halwood doesn't think the latter will have too many repercussions on the Navajo Nation, as its new tribal provisions mostly deal with bringing non-Native perpetrators to justice in Native courts.
"We just don't see that many women with non-Native partners here," she said, "although that could change in the next generation."
The act also has not been funded.
"Congress likes to pass bills," Halwood said, "but without any money behind them, they don't do us much good."
Has domestic violence changed in the last 16 years? Unfortunately yes, Halwood said.
"When I started, the question was always, 'Was he drinking?'" Halwood recalled. "Now it's often meth, cocaine -- the harder drugs."
Fists used to be the weapon of choice for abusers.
"Now we're starting to see axes, baseball bats ... We had a woman come in whose husband had knocked out all her teeth with a two-by-four," Halwood said.
As for sexual abuse, "the victims are getting younger," Halwood said, and so are the perps.
"Parents, your junior high kids are dating," she revealed.
"If you don't believe me, go down to the junior high and hang out at lunch hour."
One development that may be a good thing in disguise is an increase in the number of men seeking ADABI's services.
While it could be that more men are being abused, Halwood thinks it's more likely more men are feeling comfortable about coming forward.
"Last year we had 58 male victims," she said, "compared to maybe one 10 years ago."
It takes guts for a six-foot-two male, like the one who recently showed up at ADABI, to admit he's being abused by a woman, Halwood said.
The men are not always being physically abused; it's more likely to be emotional or financial.
For instance, Halwood said, one man arrived with his barely dressed children in tow, saying his wife had cleaned out the bank account and left.
"Those kids didn't even have Pampers," Halwood said.
What does the future hold for ADABI? Halwood is too focused on the present - namely the government shutdown - to think very far ahead.
"The government is shut down," she said, "but domestic violence isn't shut down.
In fact, it's already getting worse with so many people on furlough."
Home for Women and Children
In Navajo tradition, women are the heart of the home, but what happens when a woman can't go home because of abuse or she's too scared to? What then?
They can go to the Home for Women and Children in Shiprock, one of only two domestic violence shelters available across the whole Navajo Nation.
It has been serving as a non-profit organization since 1975.
"We're a one-stop shop," said Executive Director Gloria Champion.
The services offered by the home are residential care, crisis intervention, advocacy, legal advocate, education, cultural sensitivity, child advocacy, Navajo healthy marriage, offender program, networking and collaboration, sexual assault recovery, grandparent foster program, victim support, staff development and community education.
"The Home for Women and Children is committed to providing shelter, advocacy, mentoring and education for families affected by domestic violence and sexual assault through a comprehensive family wellness center, community wellness and involvement and to identify resources to enhance growth and development," reads the home's mission statement.
"Home for Women and Children is committed to provide these services utilizing traditional Dine teachings of K'e and Ho'zho."
"We're trying to serve people who are underserved," Champion said, adding that Home for Women and Children is the only shelter that is capable of serving 8 to 12 victims and 25 kids on the Navajo Nation.
Families with up to six children may stay for a maximum of three months.
Everyone in the home is provided with three meals a day and two snacks.
The shelter is open 24/7 and the administration is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Champion said, adding that victims will walk up to the gate at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m. and the shelter will take them in.
They even provide transportation for families.
Champion said they will go in and pick up families if needed, and not many shelters do that.
"We have our detractors and some of those folks are people that have been mad at us because their partner was here, thinking that we were taking them away from them," Champion said, but "Home for Women and Children's intention is to provide support that will provide healing for both the victim and the offender, because we offer a 52-week program for offenders that will help the family and children heal."
"We also offer a family support program called Family Roots and Wings to support the parents and youth to live a unified family and life," Champion added.
One would think with the amount of good coming from a domestic violence shelter, funding would not be a big issue, but right now Champion said that is their biggest concern.
Champion said the shelter received money from family violence prevention funds from Washington that is passed through the Social Services Division of the Navajo Nation for the past 14 years, but at the beginning of October the tribe informed her she wouldn't be receiving that grant.
The grant was supposed to start in October.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Champion said, adding that the amount they would be looking to lose is $160,000 according to their grant last year, but Champion added the amount use to equal as much as $300,000 but have gotten smaller each year.
"That's a critical grant for us to just do our basic services," Champion said adding that she went in front of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee Thursday of last week to ask for funds to keep the doors open.
Champion said she was informed that the decision would be left up to the Council, and she would need to present in front of them, which she will be doing today at 10 a.m.
The Council decides whether they get to keep the program going, Champion added.
"We have a bigger population that we are serving then ever before at a time when our funds have just been cut," Champion said.
Champion said she can't express how critical it is for them to keep supporting because Home for Women and Children is about "keeping victims and children safe from domestic violence and keeping offenders educated to heal so that they can have good family."
Alongside her funding challenges Champion has had with her program, she has also been dealing with the fact that she hasn't been able to move them into five newly constructed shelters.
Construction for the shelters that started over 10 years ago to provide more housing for domestic violence victims was halted by the Navajo Nation after about "four years of good construction," Champion said.
The buildings were 80 percent complete in 2006, when the Navajo Nation Department of Justice reviewed the contract and decided the project hadn't been properly put out to bid.
With the help of attorney James Zion, the Home appealed the matter all the way to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, and lost.
Champion said at the time of its construction, the new complex could have been completed for $1.4 million, but now it would take the tribe at least $5 to $6 million dollars to complete.
But Champion added that the original contractor, Robert Nelson from RJN Nelson Construction, who owns the project, is willing to complete it when funding is available.
After being abandoned for seven years, the building will need to be brought up to date, and Nelson said he is willing to make it state-of-the-art.
Because his late wife had lived on the reservation and was concerned about domestic violence, Nelson had given the Home a break on the cost as a memorial to her.
The five beautiful hogan-shaped buildings now have weeds growing alongside them, graffiti covering parts of the fencing and a heavy-duty chain and padlock put in place to keep people out when they should be welcoming victims in.
The shelter would have housed up to 28 victims and 168 children, plus there was extra room in case more people came in, Champion said.
The design was created with Navajo culture in mind, Champion added, because the community all came together to plan its construction.
"It was built with the principles of k'e and ho'zho, kinship and harmony," Champion added.
Champion said it hurts to look at those building because she can't get to them, even though she has a 75-year lease on them.
More information: www.homeforwomenandchildren.com.
Tohdenasshai Shelter Home
An interview couldn't be scheduled by press time with the Kayenta home's director, Elsie Smallcanyon, but an employee said that, like the Shiprock facility, Tohdenasshai is still waiting to move into its new building although it was completed 10 years ago.
"We've had different problems with the construction, including a water breakage," she said.
The shelter has eight beds at its present facility; the new building should triple that capacity.
Like the other two domestic violence programs, Tohdenasshai is still waiting on the tribe for its main grant, the employee confirmed.
Information: (928) 697-3635.