After nearly four decades of serving thousands of crime victims, the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center of Western New York's Crime Victims Assistance Program is coming to a end on Sept. 30. The program was late submitting a prequalifying audit and, therefore, was not considered for funding from the 2019-2020 state budget. The result will be no assistance program located on Buffalo's East Side.
"We are among the top three in the state the last eight years, not only claims processed through the Office of Victim Services, but also claims paid," said Dennis Mitchell. "So that right there tells you we do quite a bit of work out here."
Mitchell is Program Coordinator for Matt Urban's Crime Victims Assistance Program. He admits missing the audit deadline, but said the center submitted an on-time application in April requesting $1.1 million over three years. The majority of those funds would have paid for the four full-time and one part-time staff members who work with crime victims and their families in the city's Broadway-Fillmore District.
"There's quite a bit we can assist victims with," Mitchell said. "We sit down with them, do the claims, send them off to Albany and work with them when the investigators are assigned from Albany, just to make sure they get their needs taken care of."
Mitchell said the half-dozen other local assistance programs he reached out to had their funding cut this year, including the Erie County District Attorney's Office.
"Beginning Oct. 1, the Office of Victims Services will fund 14 victim assistance programs programs in Erie County and that's six more programs than the agency currently funds," said OVS Spokeswoman Janine Kava, "and that will expand access to direct services, everything from crisis counseling, advocacy, legal help and other assistance for victims of crime and their families."
Kava said the state office is providing a total of $10.3 million to programs in Erie County alone. Those funds will be available to cover a victim's out-of-pocket expenses related to a crime that occurred in New York. Victims do not have to be residents of New York to receive financial assistance.
"The agency is providing more than $281.3 million over three years across the state to victim assistance programs, 228 of them, and that also is really critical because it will allow the agency to meet gaps in services that exist," Kava said, "and also that's the most money that the agency has provided ever in federal funding to support victims assistance programs."
Kava said federal funding rules also require a certain percentage of funding to programs that serve specific populations, "child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, underserved populations, elderly, LGBT, indigenous populations, etc."
Matt Urban's program serves 45-50 new clients monthly, or up to 700 new victims of crimes like assault, robbery, domestic violence or homicide each year, according to Mitchell.
"It's frustrating the community that needs the most services of any community in Western New York is going to be going without a Crime Victims Assistance Program," he said. "There's no appeal process in place. At this point, they're just telling us, 'You're out of luck. Sorry.'"
Mitchell said he reached out to local lawmakers for help and looked for other sources of funding, but was unsuccessful.
"People over here on the East Side of Buffalo have troubles getting around," he said. "Believe it or not, the majority of them ride bikes, they walk, they take buses. They don't own vehicles, so it's very difficult fo rthem to get around. We even provide bus tokens when they're going to court, travel to the DA's Office, travel to the hospitals or doctors."
Mitchell believes there will be less cases prosecuted because of the unavailability of victims. Kava provided a list of local programs funded from the 2019-2020 state budget. Those programs are below, with new programs in bold:
- BestSelf Behavioral Health: $1,575,083.27
- Center for Elder Law and Justice: $819,002.73
- Child and Family Services of Erie County: $917,807.90 (two grants, including one new program)
- Community Services for Every1: $169,610.25
- Erie County District Attorney’s Office: $1,601,186.10
- Erie County Medical Center: $1,237,576.00
- Erie County Probation Department: $378,339.31
- Family Justice Center of Erie County: $262,578.06
- International Institute of Buffalo: $1,167,277.57
- It Happened to Alexa Foundation: $277,408.27
- Neighborhood Legal Services: $952,326.60
- Northwest Buffalo Community Center: $601,524.18
- Suicide Prevention & Crisis Services: $389,591.88
- Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center: $991,265.52
- Niagara County Sheriff's Office: $793,571.71
- YWCA of the Niagara Frontier, two grants totaling $503,308.31
- Chautauqua County District Attorney's Office: $583,114.44
- Chautauqua County Child Advocacy Center: $1,010,995.13
- The Salvation Army: $997,636.56 (two grants, including one new program)
- Parent Education Program: $2,313,783.25
- Cattaraugus Community Action: $1,754,595.38 (Allegany County)
There is a lot to read through and understand, but crime victims also can submit an application for financial assistance online through the OVS website. The website is also where to find an assistance program, or call the Albany office at 1-800-247-8035. Mitchell said OVS will direct callers to a program in the area where they reside.