Local ministry struggling to pay bills to help homeless community and domestic violence victims in Oxford

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Interfaith Compassion Ministry is struggling to pay its bills to the Ole Miss Motel to provide temporary shelter for domestic violence victims and the homeless community.

“We have a huge homeless bill,” said ICM director Lena Wiley. “As we get one bill paid, we’re putting more people into the hotel daily. We can’t get caught up.”

The motel bills ICM at a reduced rate for the hotel stays. Wiley said her hotel bill has increased dramatically recently and ICM is struggling to find enough money to pay its obligations while continuing to help clients.

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Complicating the situation is ICM’s role in the community as a resource for domestic violence victims since there hasn’t been a shelter in Oxford since 2011 and the nearest shelter is in Tupelo.

Wiley said her organization recently has seen an increase of homeless cases due to domestic violence.

“We don’t have a shelter so we put them up temporarily in the Ole Miss Motel for three days,” Wiley said.

“During that time, when there’s space available, we can send them to the shelter in Tupelo if they have nowhere else to go.”

While there is no acceptable excuse for domestic abuse, there are risk factors that can contribute to the likelihood of abuse taking place between domestic partners. One of those factors, according to the National Institute of Justice, is poverty.

While there’s no way to say exactly why ICM is seeing an increase in domestic violence cases, Wiley said many of the victims’ stories are similar – there’s no money to pay the bills and friction increases in the home as a result.

“They don’t have enough money to make ends meet,” she said. “The cost of living has gone up. Oxford is not a cheap place to live.”

According to NIJ, severe poverty and its associated stressors increase the risk for intimate partner violence – the lower the household income, the higher the reported violence rates.

“It’s a bad situation where couples become frustrated,” said ICM volunteer Mary Beth Marchbanks. “They take out their anger on their spouse because of their lack of ability to provide. “It’s heartbreaking when it involves children and we don’t have the facilities here to house them.”

Maj. Jeff McCutchen with the Oxford Police Department said he hasn’t noticed an increase in domestic violence calls where law enforcement gets involved; however, that’s nothing out of the ordinary.

“Unfortunately, many victims do not call us,” he said. “Rather, they reach out to services like ICM.”

ICM helps low-income families in Lafayette County pay rent and utilities on an emergency basis to prevent them from becoming homeless. ICM also helps provide food, clothing and medicine.

ICM co-founder Jean Brammer said in the last two years, ICM has served more people than they have since it was founded in 1999.

In July, ICM helped 430 individuals in some way, whether it was finding them a place to sleep, helping to pay a utility bill or providing food and clothing. They handled seven domestic violence cases that involved 12 children.

“One family had seven children,” said volunteer Melanie Ladner.

ICM is funded through a coalition of local churches and private donations. Wiley works with other organizations such as Church Women United, which help supply clothing. Oxford-University United Methodist Church and the Church of Christ helped provide more than 350 local children with school supplies this summer.

“Lena has her thumb in the pie of every good word done in Oxford,” Ladner said. “She does a lot of things not in her job description because she cares, but there’s no good answer to our homeless situation in Oxford.”

For more information about ICM, call 662-281-1002.