Will homeless women's program fall victim to federal cuts? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Will homeless women's program fall victim to federal cuts?

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Sophie's Place is an 11-unit apartment building run by Women Helping Battered Women, a nonprofit organization that also runs an emergency shelter for women and their children who leave their abusers. It is funded through a Federal Transitional Housing Grant.

Reporter Judy Simpson: Did he abuse you?

Sophie's Place resident: Yes, physically, emotionally and verbally. He was very abusive. It didn't matter if I was pregnant or not.

This resident of Sophie's Place does not want her identity known. She fears for her and her children's safety from her former abuser. She and her children have lived here for almost a year. The stay includes a variety of counseling services to help the women become more self sufficient, and eventually rent their own apartment.

"Basically about a year ago my ex-partner became incarcerated, and me and the kids, I couldn't afford the place we were living in," she said. "We were evicted."

The family bounced from shelter to hotel and back again, before being put on a waiting list for Sophie's Place.

"They have come in through our shelter or our safe home program and they really could use the supportive services connected with housing," said Emily Franz of Women Helping Battered Women. "So what they do is apply to come into our program. And we run this program with Burlington Housing Authority, so the BHA is a great partner. They provide a subsidy to each apartment. So it's affordable and the families come in here and they start their work and they start their work toward healing and becoming self sufficient."

The maximum stay is two years. Tenants are expected to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, if they can. If the tenants successfully graduate from the program they will receive a Section 8 voucher, meaning they are eligible for reduced rent.

"We could probably use 10 more Sophie's Places for Chittenden County," Franz said.

That is because according to a recent survey, 33 percent of people who are homeless in Chittenden County are homeless because of domestic violence.

The federal grant for Sophie's Place runs out in 2014 and Franz says she is worried about the looming fiscal cliff that calls for drastic cuts in social programs, like hers.

"Most nonprofits are scared about what is going to happen," Franz said. "It is a terrifying idea that this resource may not exist in the future because we see what it does for people. It really helps them be successful and move on to be safe. It's terrifying."

In the meantime, this resident says she is lucky to be here, and she has a holiday wish for her children.

"I think that would be my number one, I don't want my girls to follow the same path because they thought that was normal growing up," she said.

And she vows to take full advantage of the counseling services now available to her, and eventually, rent her own apartment, get a job, and maybe someday, own a home of her own.

This year Sophie's Place celebrated its fourth anniversary.

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