AG funding critical for Hope Unlimited

By ANNE KAZMIERCZAK
Register Reporter

Registier/Anne Kazmierczak
Iola High School Family, Career and Community Leaders of America students braved drenching rain Thursday afternoon to hear Attorney General Steve Six. A group of the students volunteer at Hope Unlimited, a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. From left are Jonathon Michaels, Celeste Ambrose, Kelsey Adams, Jennifer Findley, McKenzie Schubert (standing with balloon), Rachel Chambers, Stephanie Stahl, Abby Eisenbart, Karly Gulick and Carly Mulsow. Behind Adams is FCCLA instructor Jonet Bland.

When a person becomes a victim of domestic violence, their whole world is turned topsy-turvy. What was safe is no longer.
Sometimes, victims are left homeless. Sometimes, the victim is a child.
Iola’s Hope Unlimited seeks to serve such victims, providing services as diverse as referrals to medical or counseling providers, advocacy in court, a staffed domestic violence shelter and a supervised location for children of violence to meet with their non-custodial parent.
Kansas Attorney General Steve Six was in Iola Thursday to recognize the value of Hope Unlimited’s services as a part of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Hope Unlimited benefits from programs funded by the Attorney General’s office, Six said, which “provides financial grants to child exchange centers” and victims services throughout the state.
“October is the month we really focus on remembering the struggles these families are facing,” Six said to a welcoming crowd in pouring rain outside the Allen County courthouse.
Additionally, Six said, “we try to coordinate victims services,” including providing a crime victims compensation fund that can pay for immediate medical expenses, transportation and therapy for victims of domestic abuse.
For providers, “we look to see how we can make shelters better,” Six said. “We want to set minimum standards; we help with training; we provide policy and procedure manuals.”
The attorney general’s office also provides operational funds.
Approximately 60 percent of Hope Unlimited’s victims services budget comes through the attorney general’s office, said Hope Unlimited Executive Director Dorothy Sparks. Without that funding, “we would not be here, we absolutely would not,” Sparks said.
Funds from Six’s office partially pay for one of three full-time positions at Hope’s emergency shelter, which is staffed round the clock, 365 days a year, Sparks said. Volunteers also help staff the house.
“We had 90 people come through the shelter last year,” Sparks said. That equates to 1,914 “shelter units used,” she said. Shelter units are determined by calculating “the number of people that come in the shelter times the number of nights they stay,” Sparks said.
The shelter can house a maximum of 22 individuals, “and that is really pushing it. That is using pull-out beds and counting baby cribs. By the time we get 14 in there it’s getting really crowded,” she noted.
In addition to emergency housing, Hope Unlimited provided outreach support 493 times last year, including taking victims to hospitals and accompanying them to court appearances, Sparks said. The hotline fielded 657 crises calls in 2008 as well, she said.
Service area for the agency is primarily Allen, Neosho and Anderson counties. Some clients are served from Woodson and Wilson counties, as well, Sparks said.
“We try to keep everything within 30 minutes,” she said.

ANOTHER HOPE Unlimited service funded through the AG’s office is the Child Exchange and Parenting Center. The center’s $44,000 annual budget “is bare bones” Sparks said. Six agreed.
His office provides half the funding for the center, located within the Hope Unlimited office, that allows non-custodial parents to visit with their children in a safe, supervised environment, said Michelle Meiwes, Visitation Coordinator.
Meiwes said 88 families used the center last year, for a total of 257 visits.
The attorney general’s office will also seek additional funding for shelters, Six said, beyond the operational grants his office normally provides.
“We had some requests from facilities that needed improvements to their shelters last year,” he said. “We approached Walmart and they funded it.” The shelters in question used the money to repair roofs and complete facilities maintenance, Six said.
“We try to think out of the box when it comes to finding a way to help,” he said.

IN AN INTERVIEW with Register reporters before his appearance with Hope Unlimited, Six said his office has cut its budget by 13 percent from the funds it receives from the state general fund, “while still doing more for Kansans,” he said.
This can happen because of the success of the consumer protection division which through its prosecution of scammers and the like collects a fee from the crooks which now supports the division and more. To date, $5.6 million has been recovered from those who had conned money from Kansans on false pretenses, he said.
He cited a case in which people describing themselves as dealers in rare coins had talked a woman into investing $90,000 over the telephone with a series of calls over a brief period of time. The elderly woman suffered from dementia. Her daughter asked the attorney general’s office to investigate.
Six also said that his office investigates fraud in the Medicaid system, which delivers health care services to the poor. That team was able to collect $18 million in 2008 from those caught cheating the program.
“That’s four times more than was colleced in 2007 and 20 times more than in 2006,” he said, to put the number into perspective.
The frauds his investigators discovered were not cases of physicians or hospitals making errors in billing. “Almost all of them had to do with billing for some service such as home health care which never was done,” he explained.
When fraud is detected and the money is recovered, the state also collects fees and fines. The money paid by Medicaid is returned to the state and federal governments, but the attorney general’s department retains the fees to cover the cost of the investigation.