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‘Home is not safe for everybody’

Pandemic put different kinds of pressure on area residents, including crime victims

Submitted photos New Horizons Crisis Center is an area nonprofit that not only serves victims of crime, but does outreach and education in Lincoln, Lyon Murray and Redwood Counties. Recently, staff at NHCC were part of outreach for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, tying teal ribbons in the downtown areas of Marshall (above) and Redwood Falls.

MARSHALL — Over the past year, as Minnesota responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, area residents found themselves spending more time out of work or school. Among all the uncertainty, staff at New Horizons Crisis Center found life was changing for their clients, too.

While the number of people contacting NHCC for help in a three-county area has gone down more than 40% since last summer, the need for the crisis center’s services hasn’t gone away.

“The amount of services going out to each individual client are significantly up,” said Carrie Buddy, executive director of NHCC.

“Home is not safe for everybody. The past year showed that,” said Roberta Wyatt, NHCC’s crime victim services program director. But Wyatt and Buddy said NHCC has stayed open through it all, and is still ready to help area residents who have been victims of crime.

NHCC is “an umbrella organization that serves victims of crime,” as well as providing other education and services for families and the public, Wyatt said. NHCC serves Lincoln, Lyon, Murray and Redwood Counties. The nonprofit’s crime victims service programs range from crisis counseling to personal advocacy, emergency financial assistance and safe housing.

Buddy said the COVID pandemic has made many people’s lives more uncertain over the past year, and it’s had an affect on the services NHCC provided.

NHCC’s annual report for the 2019 fiscal year said the nonprofit provided a total of 7,850 crime victims services to a total of 310 people in its four-county service area. In the 2020 fiscal year, which went from July 2019 through June 2020, New Horizons provided a total of 6,130 crime victims services to a total of 247 people.

Buddy said New Horizons’ 2021 fiscal year service data isn’t complete yet. However, in the first three quarters of the year, the number of people the organization has served in Lincoln, Lyon and Murray County is down about 42%. And while fewer individual people were reaching out for help, their needs were more complex, she said.

“We do know the number of services are up,” Buddy said. She said NHCC staff estimated they were spending double or triple their normal amount of time providing services to clients.

Some of the reasons for the changes point to how the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainties in many people’s lives, Buddy and Wyatt said. People who were victimized by crime could have been less likely to contact NHCC advocates for reasons ranging from economic and housing insecurity during the pandemic, to having to be at home more in situations where it wasn’t safe to get help.

“We have seen people who are maybe not safe at home, saying ‘I can tolerate this because I don’t have a lot of options,'” Wyatt said.

In another example of how clients’ needs had changed during the uncertainties of the past year, Buddy said NHCC provided emergency financial assistance to clients 27 times between July 2020 and March 2021. That’s more than double the number of incidents in the same time frame the previous year, she said. “There’s just so much need.”

The pandemic also sometimes slowed down some services NHCC provided to clients, Wyatt said. For example, if a business closed its office or cut back hours due to the pandemic, it could take longer for advocates to get information or help for a client. The pandemic could also cause delays for court hearings, she said.

Besides there being fewer people reaching out to NHCC over the past year, there were also fewer people calling for help from law enforcement in the city of Marshall.

Crime data from the Marshall Police Department showed that calls for service were also down over the past year. Not counting accidents and traffic citations, the MPD responded to 8,244 calls for service in 2019 and 6,521 in 2020. In April 2020, when Minnesota was under a stay-at-home order, the MPD responded to 419 calls for service, compared to 659 calls in April 2019.

It’s not really possible to tell from MPD data if the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders caused changes in specific types of crime being reported in the city of Marshall. While there were fewer calls in 2020 in many categories, including assaults, incidents of harassment and violations of protective orders, the number of other types of service calls were up. For example, there were 106 calls about property damage in 2020, compared to 92 in 2019. There were also 24 calls for criminal sexual conduct incidents in 2020, compared to 18 in 2019.

The data showed the number of some types of police calls stayed close to the same in 2019 and 2020. For example, there were 226 calls for thefts in 2019, and 223 in 2020.

Wyatt and Buddy said NHCC was starting to gradually see more calls from area residents as COVID-19 restrictions lifted and kids returned to in-person school. However, they said there are resources available at NHCC that have been underutilized, even before COVID.

Wyatt said the organization seems to be best known in the Marshall area for providing support and advocacy for people who have been sexually assaulted. However, she said, “We deal with all kinds of crime,” from harassment to property damage. NHCC staff can help with questions about getting legal aid, or with fixing damage done to a house or mailbox.

“It’s much more encompassing,” Buddy said. “We want people to know, it doesn’t matter what the need is.”

NHCC’s crime victim services aren’t necessarily geared toward taking legal action, Wyatt said. “It’s more, ‘What do you want to do?'” and what a client identifies as a need on their healing journey, she said.

NHCC also does educational outreach and training for schools, law enforcement and a variety of other community groups, Buddy and Wyatt said. NHCC also has a parenting time program, that offers families a safe and neutral place for children to spend time with a non-custodial parent.

“Our (parenting) program is the only program in our area,” Buddy said. To find other similar parenting programs, families would need to travel to Willmar or Sioux Falls, she said.

Wyatt and Buddy encouraged people who have been the victims of crime to contact NHCC with questions. More information on NHCC’s programs and services, and local office contact numbers, is available online at newhorizonscrisiscenter.org.

“We’re still here, and we’re still open for business,” Wyatt said.

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