The Family Violence Project, which serves Kennebec and Somerset counties, will receive nearly a $1 million federal grant to improve and expand on operations at Somerset House for victims of domestic violence who are also dealing with substance abuse issues, according to a press release issued by Rep. Chellie Pingree last week.

“The struggling economy puts incredible pressure on Maine families, which all to often exacerbates existing domestic violence and substance abuse issues. Rural areas in Maine especially need more resources to deal with these terrible problems,” Pingree said in the release.

The $989,614 in funding comes from the Department of Justice’s Rural Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Assistance Program. The Family Violence Project plans to use the funds to help women who are experiencing domestic violence and substance abuse, with the hope that the program will create a safer environment for women and their children, increase focus on addiction recovery, and promote the other helpful services in the area.

“The program at Somerset House will utilize these funds to not only give more women and their children a safe place to stay, but provide additional staffing to support women in managing substance abuse while transitioning out of abusive circumstances,” said Pingree. “Existing shelters are not designed to accommodate these often co-occurring needs. The funds will enable them to implement innovative programming that other shelters in the state and country could learn from.”

In Maine domestic violence is a serious problem. According to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, each year there are an estimated 30,000 adults who are victims of domestic violence, and that more than half of the homicides in Maine are domestic-violence related.

The shelter has been open since 2005 and provides women with advocacy and referrals to community services such as Youth and Family Services, and Maine Office of Substance Abuse, according to the program Executive Director Deborah Shepherd.

“We help provide the services that women fleeing domestic violence need to transfer into a new life. What’s different from other programs is that it’s not a substance abuse program. We intend to increase the safety of battered women and provide shelter services that focus on safety and recovery. Recovery depends more on the support network than the treatment program,” Shepherd said.

When asked about the impact the grant will have, Shepherd said, “The money will have a huge impact. It will allow for 24-hour staff, and for community service providers to come in and offer groups for women to address the intersection between domestic abuse and substance abuse. It is difficult to address one problem and not the other.” She added, “This is a pilot program, the first in Maine and one of the few in the country. Other programs will be watching closely.

“It takes a community to end domestic violence” Shepherd said. For information on the program, how to donate or volunteer, or if you are, or know a victim of domestic violence call 877-890-7788.