Safe Place, Inc., the domestic violence shelter and sexual assault crisis center in Dumas, has reopened, according to Board of Directors President Michael Barr. As of Monday, the shelter has one resident and is open for business. Barr says the agency is now able to offer all of the services it did before it was closed in June in the wake of an investigation into the alleged misuse of funds by a former employee. The agency had to close and lay off all employees when the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and other government and private agencies froze the grants that Safe Place, Inc. relied upon for funding because of the allegations.
The agency was able to offer limited services with a small staff of part-time employees after the closing in June. Last month, the board made the decision to try to reopen and operate on money the agency had saved. According to Barr, Safe Place, Inc. had to have the shelter open in order to have the grants reinstated. The grants expired August 31, and Barr says the agency is in the process of trying to reapply for them. "No, we don't have the grants back. We have been through two audits by two separate agencies, OAG and HHSC. We just finished that audit last Friday. They will have a month to prepare their findings and deliver those to us. We will have 30 days to form our action plan, and they will have 10 days to review it and tell us if it is strong enough, or if it needs more tweaking. It could take three months. They have promised to expedite it. We will be ready to have things change as fast as possible," he said. It is not clear how long Safe Place, Inc. can operate without the grants. The agency does receive income from the two thrift stores, one in Dumas and one in Dalhart, that it operates, and Barr says both are operating normally and continue to take donations. Safe Place Inc. recently received a $10,000 donation from 69th District Attorney David Green's Pre-Trial Diversion Program fund.
The Safe Place, Inc. Board of Directors voted on Monday to offer Chris Fobbs, former Safe Place, Inc. Board Vice President and current interim executive director, the full-time job of executive director. "He has accepted," said Barr. "He has a great vision for the agency's future. We are excited about that. We were doing our search. We had received several applications. He was certainly the right fit; he had the experience that we needed." Fobbs has been working part time as interim executive director and full time as pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Dumas since taking over from former Executive Director Heather Weidner, who was fired in March. Barr says Fobbs will continue to work full time as pastor of the church, even as he works full time as executive director of Safe Place, Inc. "He is a very energetic young man and able and willing to do it," he said.
Barr says Safe Place, Inc has hired five shelter advocates and two crisis interventionists, a smaller staff than the agency had prior to the closing. He says they are still seeking another shelter advocate to work weekend and night shifts. Shelter advocates operate the shelter and work with resident victims. Crisis interventionists have more extensive dealings with victims of both sexual assault and domestic violence, whether they are residents of the shelter or not. Among other things, they accompany sexual assault victims to forensic examinations in Amarillo and help them navigate the legal system.
Barr says the agency is also in negotiations with a professional counselor in Amarillo for a contract to provide services to Safe Place, Inc. clients and others in Dumas. In the past, the agency had two professional counselors who came to the agency office one day a week. Barr says having a contract counselor is one of the requirements for reinstating the grants.
In addition, the agency is seeking a new finance director. Former Finance Director Ginger Parks had continued working part-time during the period the agency was closed. According to Barr, "We let her know that her services were no longer needed. We are going in a different direction. We are going to hit a complete reset. There were no new suspicions or anything, we just all agreed that was the right direction for the agency."
The criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers into alleged misuse of funds by a former employee that is at the heart of the agency's current problems remains ongoing.