- Associated Press - Saturday, January 13, 2018

NAMPA, Idaho (AP) - After spending most of her life in a cycle of domestic violence and meth addiction, Selina Chocktoot finally realized she wanted to seek help while she was rebelling in drug court.

The 55-year-old went to Hope’s Door in Caldwell but found the domestic violence shelter was booked to capacity. Because of her urgent situation, she was allowed to stay, but Executive Director Kim Deugan said the organization makes exceptions only for emergency cases like Chocktoot‘s. The shelter almost always has every room filled, and employees frequently have to bring out cots for victims to sleep on while they wait for a vacancy.

This is reflective of a much larger problem in the Treasure Valley - a lack of resources for victims of domestic abuse. Deugan said Advocates Against Family Violence, which operates Hope’s Door, consistently has a waitlist of 15 to 30 people. Recently, that waitlist has increased to about 50 people.

Operating out of a building that is more than 100 years old and offering just 23 rooms total, Hope’s Door is one of only two domestic violence shelters in the Treasure Valley, and it provided extended services to almost 2,000 people in 2017, Deugan said.

But it isn’t enough.

“We need to at least double our space to get rid of our waitlist,” Deugan said. “And I don’t even know that that will literally eliminate the waitlist.”


Joe Decker, public information officer for Canyon County, said domestic violence is likely the most prevalent crime in the county.

The Nampa Police Department categorized 305 calls in 2017 as domestic violence as of Dec. 29, according to Sgt. Tim Riha. Aleshea Boals, victim witness coordinator for the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office, said domestic violence calls make up about 60 percent of the office’s total cases.

Monica Morrison, chief of the domestic violence unit for the Canyon County Prosecutor’s Office, said these numbers are rising.

Compared to Ada County, Canyon County has a bigger problem with domestic abuse, especially when looking at homicides, Morrison said. She said there is rarely a year where the prosecutor’s office doesn’t work on a domestic homicide case.

When he was working as a detective, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said he answered “more than a lot” of domestic violence calls in Canyon County. It was the atrocities he saw as a detective that led him to make domestic violence prevention a focus as sheriff.

“It’s a monster, but we’re addressing the monster,” Donahue said.


Boals said the biggest challenge she’s seen for domestic violence victims is finding housing.

Often the only option for victims is to stay in a hotel, which Boals said is often too expensive, or seeking out one of the few domestic violence shelters in the area.

Selina Chocktoot chose Hope’s Door, but it took her a lifetime of abuse to get there.

She grew up in an environment that normalized domestic violence, and as a result she said every relationship she’s ever been in has had some element of abuse, be it physical, mental or sexual.

“That’s the way I thought it was supposed to be,” Chocktoot said.

The cycle of abuse continued until 2014, when Chocktoot was sent to Canyon County drug court for possession charges. Three months into the program, she said she realized she didn’t want to continue her life the way it was going. So before anyone from drug court could suggest Hope’s Door to her, she sought out Hope’s Door herself.

“At that point, I wanted to live,” Chocktoot said.

Chocktoot stayed at Hope’s Door for about one year, and when she first arrived she still wasn’t fully committed to straightening her life out. She was essentially on house arrest, and one sunny day while she was outside pulling weeds, she had her epiphany.

“I cried, and I prayed and I realized that I want this to work,” she said.

After that, she started following the rules. She worked with Hope’s Door employees, who taught her to be more aware about what she consumes. To this day, she said she still pays attention to what ingredients make up her daily meals.

More importantly, the employees taught her that it was OK to be on her own. They taught her how to stand up for herself, and showed her that she deserved more than what she had been getting all her life.

“I’m like myself, and that’s because of Hope’s Door,” Chocktoot said.

Deugan said most of the staff with Advocates Against Family Violence are survivors, including Deugan herself. Chocktoot said it was through conversations she had with the employees that made her want to be better, because they believed in her.

“Our staff are some of the most beautiful people I have ever met,” Deugan said.

Advocates Against Family Violence offers a variety of resources in addition to the shelter, including court advocacy, counseling and housing services. Deugan said it is especially difficult for abuse victims to find places to live because of Canyon County’s low supply of affordable housing.

But the shelter they currently operate in is not in the best shape. The building is more than 100 years old, and while Deugan said there are no serious safety concerns, they do have to worry about leaking roofs and other deteriorating conditions.

Deugan said Advocates Against Family Violence is raising money for a new shelter, though they don’t know whether it will be built in the 3.5 acres next to their main office or if they will relocate to an existing facility. She said they would also like to expand their transitional housing program.

Relocating to a new facility would cost about $1.2 million, Deugan estimated, while building a new shelter from scratch would cost about $1.8 million. Incidentally, $1.8 million is how much the organization has in its overall annual budget, which is barely enough to maintain operations and pay its staff.

About 65 percent of the organization’s funding comes from grants, Deugan said, with the rest coming from donations. She said she can request funding from the city of Caldwell, but the city doesn’t have much funding itself that it can offer them.

Deugan said a huge percentage of her time as executive director is spent researching and applying for grants. They are hoping to fund a new shelter through a combination of grant money and capital development, she said.

Recently, the organization received roughly $13,000 in two grants from the Idaho Community Foundation to cover preschool costs for more than 250 children of domestic violence victims and to absorb the costs of Darkness to Light, a sexual abuse prevention training program.

But for now they are still stretched thin, with too much demand for the limited resources they have. Deugan said the staff collaborates with other services in the Treasure Valley when necessary, including the Nampa Family Justice Center and the one other domestic violence shelter in the area, the Women and Children’s Alliance in Boise.

As for Chocktoot, she eventually moved into a mobile home in Caldwell with her beloved Chihuahua. And while she said she knows she deserves better than her current living situation, she is in awe of what she’s achieved. She has a big TV, a nice laptop and a Mustang. She has a small white Chihuahua, which she adores.

Chocktoot has these things because she worked hard to get them. She has a job. She volunteers in the community. She’s going to school at Treasure Valley Community College, where she earned a scholarship. And she is not looking for a new relationship.

“Hope’s Door taught me that it’s OK to be alone,” Chocktoot said. “It’s OK to be on my own.”


Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune, http://www.idahopress.com

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