Shiprock domestic violence shelter closes

The only domestic violence shelter in the Navajo Nation's Northern Agency has shuttered because of funding issues stemming from federal back taxes it still owes

Noel Lyn Smith
The Home for Women and Children, a domestic violence shelter in Shiprock, is pictured on Thursday. The shelter closed on March 30.
  • The Home for Women and Children has closed in light of the nearly $260K it owes in back taxes.
  • The organization was the only shelter for domestic violence victims in the Northern Agency.
  • The shelter's finance director says IRS trouble prevented the shelter from securing more funds.
  • A safe home in Chinle, Ariz., has seen an uptick in calls since the closure of the Shiprock shelter.

SHIPROCK — The only domestic violence shelter in the Northern Agency of the Navajo Nation has closed its doors due to funding issues.

Reddawn George, the shelter’s finance director, confirmed Thursday that the Home for Women and Children in Shiprock had closed.

No official word was released by the shelter or its board of directors, but the news was shared in an April 26 post on the Shiprock Indian Health Service Facebook page.

At the time of its March 30 closure, the shelter was housing five adults and six children, she said. Those clients were transported to other regional shelters.The shelter, which consists of modular buildings surrounded by a chain-link fence, now sits unoccupied while the next step remains under consideration, George said.

“It was horrible because the ladies were crying,” George said, adding the last day for the six staff members was April 1.

The shelter owes $258,191 in federal taxes, and securing additional funds from the tribe, state and other resources has not been successful, George said. Because of that, the shelter could no longer afford to pay its insurance, bills or staff salaries, she said.

Since the shelter's beginning in the 1970s, it has operated with a mixture of funding from tribal, state and federal governments.George said a previous executive director caused the tax troubles, and the shelter is continuing to work with a Colorado-based company to resolve its tax debts.

Gloria Champion was the executive director for 21 years until June 2014. In a telephone interview Friday, Champion said the tax issues existed during her tenure at the shelter. During that time, she said, the shelter entered into an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service to pay back the taxes.

“They can blame me all they want. I was making those payments. …We had a schedule with the IRS and were paying it,” she said.

She added that despite the tax issue, the shelter still secured grants and funding while she was director.

“My biggest concern is the women and children," she said. "They are the ones who are losing."

Reddawn George, the finance director for the Home for Women and Children, looks over paperwork on Thursday during an interview at the domestic violence shelter in Shiprock.

There is the Tohdenasshai Committee Against Family Abuse Inc. in Kayenta, Ariz., which can house eight women, and Amá Dóó Álchíní Bíghan Inc. in Chinle, Ariz., which operates a safe home and offers a 24-hour crisis program.Shelters for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse are severely limited on the Navajo Nation.

ADABI clients can stay at the shelter for up to five days, and if they choose, they can be transported to shelters for long-term housing, she said.ADABI Executive Director Lorena Halwood said on Friday the number of telephone calls to the facility has increased since the Home for Women and Children closed.

Halwood said the closure is “unfortunate” because many clients prefer to stay in shelters on the reservation near relatives. That way they can remain close to family and take advantage of programs that incorporate Navajo culture, language and teachings, she explained.

To keep clients comfortable, Halwood recalled staff from the Home for Women and Children and ADABI meeting halfway between Chinle and Shiprock to transport clients.

“Shiprock was wonderful. …We do need a shelter like Home for Women and Children,” she said.

The Home for Women and Children, a domestic violence shelter in Shiprock, is pictured on Thursday. The shelter closed on March 30.

Before the Shiprock shelter closed, it was relying primarily on funding from the New Mexico’s Children, Youth and Families Department, according to George, the shelter’s finance director.

CYFD spokesman Henry Varela confirmed Friday that the shelter notified the department about its financial and insurance issues.

Varela said the state department worked with the shelter as much as possible. But the department ended its support when the shelter could no longer afford insurance and discussed laying off staff, Varela said.

George said the shelter sought funding from the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services’ Department of Family Services but received a denial letter on March 23.

The tribal department denied the shelter funding for fiscal year 2016 because of the back taxes, according to the denial letter, which George provided to The Daily Times.

In the letter, Department Manager Gladys Ambrose wrote the shelter was not eligible for funding because it had “federal debt or delinquent” IRS taxes.

“In order to be eligible for funding in the future, the delinquency must be addressed. We recognize the great need for services and we encourage your organization take the initiative to resolve this issue,” she wrote.

The gate at the entrance to the Home for Women and Children, a domestic violence shelter in Shiprock, is pictured on Thursday.

George said shelter staff were disappointed by the action. Adding to the disappointment, she said, was false hope offered by the tribe's president. After visiting the shelter March 18 and hearing about the financial difficulties, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye assured staff that the shelter would receive funding, George said.

“His words were, ‘You’re going to get your funding,’” George said.

Begaye’s office did not respond to an email and telephone call seeking comment about the funding.

George said shelter staff attempted to secure other sources of funding, including assistance from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Office for Victims of Crime under the U.S. Department of Justice. But those organizations denied the requests because of the IRS issues, George said.

With the shelter closed, the “very last result” is to formally end the organization, George said. That topic could be determined when the shelter's board meets in the coming week.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

Toys are scattered at a play area at the Home for Women and Children, a domestic violence shelter that closed in March.