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Finding community-driven solutions

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Lynne Tally, director of Mary's Place, left, leads Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., on a tour Thursday of the facility in Jamestown. John M. Steiner / The Sun2 / 2

On her first visit to Mary's Place domestic violence shelter in Jamestown on Thursday, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., discussed community-centric approaches to related issues with local leaders.

A community effort made it possible for Mary's Place to provide transitional housing and services for victims of domestic violence in the area, Heitkamp said. Federal efforts such as the Violence Against Women Act and other legislation for transitional housing and pro-bono legal services have helped to reduce domestic violence and related traumatic situations, she said.

"In addition to providing women and children with safety and residential stability, we also must focus on giving victims and their families the counselling, legal services and other resources they need to get back on their feet," Heitkamp said.

The goal is to keep victims and their children at home when it's possible to remove the offender with a restraining order, said Lynne Tally, executive director of Mary's Place. That is not always possible and creates the need to shelter families for up to four months, she said.

Family stability stems from support networks, jobs and housing, Tally said. Current government funding formulas do not provide all that is needed because they are population based, she said.

Children from violent homes are taking that anger to schools and teachers who are not trained to handle the aggression, Heitkamp said. This is on a scale unheard of just 20 years ago, she said.

The school resource officer is there to create trusting relationships with kids so they tell him about abusive situations, said Scott Edinger, chief of police, Jamestown Police Department. Still, there are traumatized children as young as 8 years old who are destroying property with aggression in school, he said.

"That is a lot of rage," he said.

There was a sharp increase in the number of domestic violence calls last year. Most were repeat calls to the same households, he said.

Around 20 to 30 percent of children from families involved in drugs and violence wind up in foster care, said Emeline Burkett, the child welfare supervisor for Stutsman County Social Services.

Dan Cramer, director of South Central Human Services, said the social determinants of health are about understanding the underlying issues and trauma histories. Relapse is part of the disease and the help is there as long as there is a good faith effort to continue to maintain sobriety with support networks and family connections.

"They are all pieces of the puzzle," Cramer said.

The best scenario is having case workers and addiction counselors going to the home to ensure people are doing what they need to be doing, Cramer said. It could be making sure they get going to a new job or even driving them for the first few days, he said.

"It's a hospital without walls," Cramer said of the continuum of care. "But it does all come back to willingness (of the client)."

Heitkamp said the solutions are about breaking the pattern of addiction and violence. Offenders must be treated or the community risks further property crime and behavioral issues, she said.

"It is a workforce problem with huge consequences," Heitkamp said.

Edinger said it was important not to target funding to the drug of the moment. There has been an evolution with narcotics over a decade and opioids will be replaced with something else eventually, he said.

Heitkamp said she supports funding a community-driven approach where money is directed on the local level. It's more effective in getting results-based outcomes, she said.