- Associated Press - Saturday, June 3, 2017

BEND, Ore. (AP) - For Tina Marie Braun, being free of her abusive ex-boyfriend was bittersweet.

Thomas Crawford was accused of trying to strangle her at their Madras apartment in April 2016, and was put in jail. For a brief time, she didn’t have to fear him.

But with Crawford in jail, Braun had no financial support - and nowhere affordable to live. Her situation is not uncommon among women who are fleeing dangerous relationships in central Oregon.

Over the course of their three-year relationship, Crawford promised he would take care of Braun. She worked odd jobs sometimes, but it was hard to balance being a reliable employee and also making him happy. He was usually there to support her - until he was arrested three times, leaving her without money to pay rent in the last two incidents. Crawford’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

By his third domestic-violence arrest, Braun had been evicted twice and had no reliable source of income, she said. She had to live in her car.

“He gets a bed to sleep in,” said Braun. “He gets a roof over his head, but the victim doesn’t.”

Braun is not unlike hundreds of other victims of domestic violence in Deschutes County who not only struggle with the emotional challenges of leaving abusive relationships, but also the financial ones. Often, abusers control their victim’s finances, which eliminates the means to leave a relationship. Those situations are further complicated in central Oregon.

LACK OF SERVICES

There is only one women’s shelter - which has space for eight women and their children - to serve the 200,000 people who live in Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties. Central Oregon’s population boom has left Saving Grace, the region’s only women’s shelter, struggling to keep up with victims who need emergency shelter. Women fleeing abusive relationships are left to fight for few housing options in a region facing a severe rental shortage and skyrocketing home prices.

Experts say this doesn’t only affect central Oregon residents with low incomes, but anyone in a relationship where the abuser controls the finances.

“I don’t see any more domestic violence committed against poor people than rich people,” said Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel. “But for a victim who has financial means that are not controlled by her abuser, she’s in a better position than a poor person or a victim where the abuser controls all the money.”

Before dating Crawford, Braun was independent - both financially and emotionally. She was raised in Hillsboro, started working as a teenager in order to be self-sufficient. Prior to moving to central Oregon in 2004, the single mom moved her children from Oregon to Alaska to raise her kids while working as a property manager. She’d been married twice before, and neither of her husbands were violent. She always made enough to support herself and her family.

In 2013, Braun was working at a military manufacturing company in Redmond when she met Crawford, she said. Shortly after they started dating, he told he that he wanted to support her. He moved in with her and said he would help her pay rent.

But he became so controlling that it was hard for Braun to stay employed, she said.

“I used to be strong and independent and tough,” said Braun. “And I turned into someone that I’ve never been in my life.”

While Crawford was sleeping on a bed in the Deschutes County Jail after his arrest, Braun would park her car under a bridge in Redmond. She contacted Saving Grace, but it didn’t have room.

Sometimes, Braun would stay in motels, where she occasionally met other women fleeing abusive relationships who had nowhere else to go. In central Oregon, motels are often home to women fleeing dangerous relationships. But they’ve also become a shelter solution for Saving Grace, which has the same number of shelter spaces - about eight - as it did in 1990 when Bend was a town of 25,000. Klamath County, on the other hand, is home to 65,000 residents and has 17 spaces for women seeking shelter from abusive partners. In Baker County, there are just more than 27,000 residents, who have access to six shelter spaces.

To meet demand for services in 2016, Saving Grace turned to motels, paying for more than 100 people to stay about 213 nights. The motels served as a holding place until Saving Grace could help victims find somewhere else to go - either by giving them gas money to drive to family somewhere in Oregon, or by purchasing bus or train tickets to get them out of the state.

“It’s extremely rare that we put somebody on an airplane,” said Janet Huerta, executive director of Saving Grace. “But if there’s . no other possibility and it’s highly dangerous, we have done it.”

HOUSING, FINANCES ARE OBSTACLES

Victims’ demands for shelter and financial help have grown as Bend housing prices have continued to soar. There’s a severe shortage of affordable homes to rent and buy, and steep competition for services, such as rental assistance and housing vouchers.

Often, even if women decide to leave an abusive relationship, they can’t afford it. In recent years, there’s been a growing number of women who call and ask Saving Grace for help - then decide against leaving an abusive relationships, said Huerta.

“They would rather stay there and tolerate the abuse than risk being homeless,” said Huerta.

But that can lead to deadly consequences. Just two miles from where Braun was attacked by Crawford in her Redmond home, Rebekah Gomes was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend, Mario Morataya, in December 2015.

DeeAnna Wallace, Gomes’ mother, said that her daughter, 24, was a single mom who sometimes struggled to make ends meet, juggling working full-time as a preschool teacher and raising her 5-year-old son. Gomes had recently moved from Hawaii - where she met Morataya - to Oregon, where she could live with her sister in Redmond. Morataya followed, and started working in construction.

Her ex-boyfriend was controlling and manipulative, but helped support Gomes financially, her mother said. Wallace told her daughter several times that she was scared for her safety, but Gomes believed she could stand up for herself.

“If she walked away, yes, it would be safer for her,” Wallace said. “But how would she support herself financially?”

But Gomes eventually decided she’d had enough, and broke up with Morataya. Just days later, Morataya came to the home Gomes shared with her sister, to return some of her belongings. They talked in the car outside of the home, until Morataya tried to drive away against Gomes’ will. She jumped out of the car and fell to the ground. Then Morataya shot Gomes in the back and killed her.

“Because he couldn’t have her, we couldn’t have her either,” said Wallace.

Today, finding an affordable place to live is exponentially more difficult than it was in previous years. Rental prices have risen more than 10 percent in the last five years, but wages in central Oregon haven’t kept up, according to U.S. Census estimates.

MORE HELP AHEAD?

In order to deal with the housing crisis, Huerta wants to eventually expand Saving Grace’s eight-bed facility by building long-term housing for victims. She’s already talked with architects about designing a 25-unit community specifically for victims of domestic violence. The community would be well lit, and designed to allow neighbors to see each other - “so you don’t feel like you’re anonymous and that you can disappear,” said Huerta.

“We’re not just looking at it like a building,” said Huerta. “We’re looking at it that this is a way to build a really conscious community.”

But Saving Grace put the brakes on the project after some rumbles that President Donald Trump’s proposed budget may reduce funding for federal grant programs. Right now, Saving Grace received receives about 15 percent of its funding from grants under the federal Violence Against Women Act, which provides millions of dollars to law enforcement and nonprofits to fight domestic violence each year. It’s still unclear exactly how those programs could be affected under the proposed federal budget.

“It’s important to me that we not expand if potentially next we kind of need to circle the wagons and hold on to everything we’ve got,” said Huerta, adding that if necessary, they’ll start allowing volunteers to shelter women in their own homes as “safe homes” - something Saving Grace did before the shelter opened in 1990.

But if there are fewer resources, victims of domestic violence like Braun will continue to struggle to find safe shelters and resources.

“I’ve thought about having to change my name and relocating but I can’t afford that,” said Braun.

Braun started working again, got a home in Redmond and is now stable - at least from a financial standpoint. But emotionally, coming to terms with the fact that Crawford could be out from behind bars terrifies her.

Deschutes County judges convicted him of domestic violence crimes twice, but it didn’t stop him from allegedly attacking her the third time, she said. He’s currently awaiting trial for allegedly trying to strangle her in Jefferson County.

___

Information from: The Bulletin, https://www.bendbulletin.com

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