Safe Place, Inc., the domestic violence shelter and sexual assault crisis center that has been offering services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Moore, Sherman, Hartley, and Dallam Counties for more than 30 years, is continuing to serve clients, even as it struggles to have the government and private foundation grants that make up the bulk of the organization's funding restored, after they were frozen last summer in the wake of an investigation by the Texas Rangers into the alleged misuse of funds by a former employee, according to Safe Place, Inc. Board of Directors President Michael Barr. That investigation is still ongoing, according to Sergeant Cindy Barkley of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
"We are still just going and trying to satisfy HHSC (Texas Health and Human Services Commission), updating our policies and procedures. Just a back and forth is where we are," said Barr. "It is progressing. It's going the right direction. It's pretty slow."
Barr says they have gotten help from similar organizations in Pampa. Those agencies have policies and procedures that have been accepted by HHSC. "We feel good that if they were happy with it over there, they are going to like it here," he said.
Safe Place, Inc. Executive Director Chris Fobbs said there is the possibility that two of the largest grants could be restored within 45 days.
In the meantime, Safe Place Inc. continues to operate on savings and revenue from the This n' That Thrift Stores in Dumas and Dalhart, both of which are open. The agency has two crisis interventionists on staff and 4 shelter advocates. Fobbs says staffers have accompanied sexual assault victims to forensic SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) exams at Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo and child abuse victims to exams at The Bridge. In addition, Safe Place, Inc. continues to operate a food pantry at the agency's office on 7th Street. The shelter, which is one of the primary missions of Safe Place, Inc. is open and accepting victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
"We have been pretty busy in the shelter. … We have had someone in here since we opened the door back up," said Barr.
The door reopened in September 2019 after having been closed most of the summer. Safe Place, Inc. essentially shut down and staff were laid off in June 2019, after grantors learned of the investigation. In September, the board made the decision to reopen and operate on the limited funding available until the grants could be restored. That process has taken four months so far. Safe Place, Inc. has undergone audits from the state, as well as the lengthy negotiations over policies and procedures. It is not clear how long Safe Place, Inc. can operate without the grants. Barr says he welcomes any private donations.
Dr. Stephanie Diehlmann and Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades have joined the Safe Place, Inc. Board of Directors as members, replacing Dr. Richard Chudacoff, who left Dumas to pursue career opportunities elsewhere and Margaret Parsons, who retired. Diehlmann is the primary care physician at The Well Health Center clinic in Cactus and one of three physicians at the newly-reopened Moore County Obstetrics and Gynecology clinic.
"I think things are going to be OK," said Rhoades when asked about his decision to join the board. "I love Safe Place."