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With Grant, an Alaska Women’s Shelter Can Reopen

July 5, 2012
NY Times - July 5, 2012


A $50,000 emergency grant from the federal government and more than $30,000 in donations from the public will allow a women’s shelter in an isolated Alaskan village to continue operating after it ran out of money and had to close, officials said.

The Emmonak Women’s Shelter, located in Emmonak, Alaska, serves about 500 women and children a year from more than a dozen villages in and around the Yukon River delta. It is a remote area where the rates of sexual assault and domestic violence are far higher than national averages.

The center, which opened in 1978, is the only such facility in a region in which there are few police officers, no transitional housing for women and limited options for women seeking to escape. There are few passable roads in the region. During the winter, residents travel via snow machine or by aircraft.

The village, with a population of about 800, is some 500 air miles northwest of Anchorage, a trip that requires two flights and can cost as much as $800 one way.

The shelter was forced to close for two weeks after exhausting its Justice Department financing because of unexpectedly high costs for heating oil during a notably brutal Alaskan winter.

After The New York Times published an article in May about the frequency of sexual assaults among Alaska Natives and the pending closing of the shelter, the center received dozens of personal checks and donations via a PayPal account, the shelter said.

In addition to money, donors have sent bulk shipments of diapers, baby formula and nonperishable food. The money has allowed the facility to reopen and resume providing 24-hour services, said Lenora Hootch, the shelter’s former director and now executive director of the Yupik Women’s Coalition, a nonprofit organization. The center is the only shelter for abused women located in an Alaska Native village.

“People have been so kind, so generous, so understanding,” Mrs. Hootch said. “We had to lay off staff but we’ve been able to rehire them, and we hope this money will help us pull through until we receive funding.”

Another boost for the shelter came last week, when Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, announced that she had secured $50,000 in federal funds for the center from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Senator Murkowski’s office, which learned about the possible shuttering of the shelter from the newspaper article, sent a letter on June 11 to the Bureau of Indian Affairs asking for help for the center, including funding and grant-writing assistance.

“I am extremely concerned that due to financial difficulties and limited resources the Emmonak shelter may be forced to close its doors as early as mid-June,” the letter stated. “If the Emmonak shelter is forced to close its doors it could potentially leave many women and children in the Emmonak area without respite from domestic abuse and that is not a situation we should allow to happen.”

About two weeks later, on June 29, Donald E. Laverdure, acting assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, announced that the bureau had agreed to provide $50,000 in emergency money to the center, calling the protection of Native American women against violence a priority and saying in a statement that it was “important that the Emmonak Women’s Shelter be able to continue offering help to those who need it.”

The money will be used to pay for the center’s electrical, food and fuel bills and will allow it to operate until it receives a Justice Department grant expected to arrive in September or October, according to the shelter.


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