Mike Dingman: State should step up and support AWAIC expansion

Mike Dingman

Choose Respect.

We seem to hear that phrase constantly. It's Gov. Sean Parnell's campaign described as "Alaskans Ending the Epidemic of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault."

Gov. Parnell says: "In December of 2009, I pledged that Alaska would take every step necessary to stop the epidemic of domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse in Alaska. Since then, we have witnessed more and more Alaskans finding the courage to speak, and the strength to act."

However, actions speak louder than words.

For most of us, home is the safest place we can imagine. We close the door and are now in our fortress. It is where we are at our most vulnerable, where we sleep in peace and wake up refreshed.

For some, unfortunately, it's quite the opposite.

For an abused woman, that very home that is supposed to be warm and welcoming can be a living hell that they can't escape.

Imagine you're a battered woman. You fear walking in your own front door, you have no money of your own and no real support structure. There is nowhere you can go without living in constant fear and the temperature just dropped to 10 below zero.

Hope, for many of these women, can be found in an emergency shelter. A warm, safe place with welcoming people ready to offer help and encouragement can be their saving grace.

AWAIC, which has saved the lives of many battered women, made a request for a $2 million grant in Alaska's capital budget -- a capital budget that weighs in around $2.1 billion this year.

It's one of those places that, unless you actually need it, or take the time to volunteer there, you won't really know exactly what it does. Before I had ever heard of it, I pictured a large room with mattresses on the floor.

AWAIC is so much more.

They do have the emergency shelter. Last year the 52-bed shelter served 726 women and children, providing 18,228 bed nights. They were at or over capacity half of the year.

They also provide transitional housing beds, case management, crisis intervention, the 24-hour crisis line, emergency financial assistance to women in need and support for women to find permanent housing.

Fully funding the grant would be a significant expansion, creating an additional 4,000 square feet of space to include 12 additional shelter beds and critical space for nonresidential services. Twelve shelter beds may not seem like a lot, but with 52 beds providing more than 18,000 bed nights, an additional 12 beds could add more than 4,500 bed nights a year.

The need is immediate. For the past two months, AWAIC has run more than 80 percent over capacity.

A delay in raising additional capital funds could delay the process by a year to 18 months or more.

With just $2 million of the large capital budget, AWAIC could go immediately into design and build in the spring and summer of 2015, with beds ready to occupy in the fall.

Thinking about all of this brings out the hidden Zero Mostel inside of me and makes me want to dance around the room singing, "If I were a rich man ..."

Were I a rich man, I could ensure that places like AWAIC had as much money as they need and then some. I would guarantee that women in need could not only find a comfortable place to escape their inescapable hell but could walk into a palace of hope and know that their community was truly a partner in their success.

The state of Alaska could be that partner -- and to be fair to the state Legislature, they are helping, a bit.

The capital budget currently includes half of the needed $2 million grant. If the state refuses to step up to the plate and fully fund the request, the Municipality of Anchorage should to step in and help.

Funding the full $2 million would not significantly increase the capital budget. However, it could mean everything to these women in need.

I haven't yet won the Powerball millions, so I can't provide the money that AWAIC needs to fulfill these plans immediately instead of delaying them. I can, however, write a $100 check and I hope you will join me.

We won't put a significant dent in the million dollars AWAIC is seeking but we can be partners in hope for Anchorage's women in crisis.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president who has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.

Mike Dingman