Domestic violence utility waivers suit tossed

Published 9:29 am Monday, January 19, 2015

A federal judge had tossed out a lawsuit to block a waiver of utility deposits for domestic violence victims, adding another tool for local victim services.
Late last week, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley announced that a lawsuit to block 60-day waivers of utility deposits had been dismissed in federal court.
The Mississippi Rural Water Association brought the suit forth, saying they supported domestic violence victims but did not feel the state should force them to waive deposits.
“I am pleased to see that the cloud of uncertainty for victims this lawsuit presented is now gone. I hope that now our focus can be on implementing the rule so victims can have the opportunity for a fresh start,” Presley said.
Haven House director Georgia Grodowitz said the waivers are not frequently used in Warren County, but the program is a plus for those moving on from an abusive relationship.
“That’s good news because that’s another resource that we can use if we need it,” Grodowitz said.
The Public Service Commission-approved rule provides an initial waiver of utility deposits for anyone who has been certified by a domestic violence shelter. It is designed to lighten the financial burden that can keep victims from moving away from a violent household.
“If they are a victim of domestic violence, they are eligible for that 60-day waiver to pay the deposit. It delays the inevitable they are going to have to pay it at some point,” Grodowitz said. “Of course coming up with money for deposits is always a challenge for someone who has been without a place to live.”
Last year, Haven House had 75 residents at its shelter and provided services for more than 400 people, the majority of whom are Warren County residents. In Mississippi, domestic violence victims from Sharkey Issaquena, Yazoo, Hinds, Rankin and Claiborne counties are also eligible for Haven House services. Shelters are set up across the state to assist residents of other counties. The local shelter also frequently provides services to residents of western Louisiana, Grodowitz said.
“We also do outreach work with people who might be victims of domestic violence who don’t necessarily come into the shelter,” Grodowitz said.
This year, Haven House will celebrate its 30th anniversary of serving the local community, Grodowitz said.
“We are working to keep serving the people who need us. We still need a little more funding. Funding has been down the last year or so, but we’re doing fine,” she said. “We’re going to be looking for new sources of funding. “We do have a great community that has supported us over the years.”
The next fundraiser set for the shelter is a fish fry from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Fisher Ferry Road. Tickets are $10, and meals can be eaten there or carried out.
The shelter crisis line can be reached at 601-638-0555 or 1-800-898-0860
“We want people to know that we’re here and we’re available 24 hours a day, every day of the year,” Grodowitz said.

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