Tanan Chiefs Conference Building

Tanana Chiefs Conference Al Ketzler Sr. Building, 201 First Ave., is seen Aug. 16, 2020, in Fairbanks. Caitlin Miller/News-Miner

Interior Alaskans who have lived through a traumatic event have a new source of help to escape the violence cycle.

The tribal consortium Tanana Chiefs Conference formed its Tribal Protective Service Program last year to provide safety, advocacy and support for victims of crime in the region. During the pandemic, it was difficult to get the word out, but now, they are starting to receive the calls.

“I would say the program has taken off in the past month or so,” said Brittany Madros, the program’s tribal government and justice division director. “This year, just from January till now, we’ve served 38 people. None of those people had access to services before this programming.”

The clients of the program are people who went through a traumatizing event such as physical abuse, sexual assault, arson, bullying, robbery, hate crime or domestic violence.

“We serve all victims of crime, not just intimate partner violence,” Madros said. “We may also serve families that had a person murdered or missing under suspicious circumstances.”

Program manager Constance Reimer-Ely has assisted some clients who called for help after a traumatic event.

“Each time, I listen to their story, make notes as they are speaking, and begin the case notes and case planning so they don’t have to repeat their story multiple times,” she said. “Once they are done, I ask them what they need help with. Sometimes I know from their story and other times they want to know what we can help them with.”

The top priority for the program is to keep clients safe, and that’s why the program managers help them with safety planning — for example, thinking through what room in their house has fewer objects to cause harm and is best to escape the violence. Another imminent need clients have is emergency shelter — getting people to hotels in town, while they are getting connected to other housing assistance.

“We’ll get them immediately safe, and then worry about those other services later,” Madros said.

Program managers work on crisis intervention, supporting clients’ emotional and physical needs, and providing various types of counseling and traditional healing activities. Navigating the criminal justice system and filling out restraining orders are also some of the things clients can get help with. The program can even help people with utility payments and cover some costs associated with education, job training, child care and caregiver assistance.

“It’s always a good feeling when they come back and tell you that they feel so appreciative of the assistance they received,” Reimer-Ely said.

Whether getting out of the village to get safe or getting to the counseling appointment in Fairbanks, clients also have transportation needs.

“We’ve helped a lot with bus tokens, cab vouchers,” Madros said. “We’ve actually helped a mother with kids with bicycles because she said she wasn’t near a bus stop.”

And then there are just basic needs that have to be met: making sure clients have food, hygiene products and necessary documents.

“Often people come to us after they’ve already left the situation, and they don’t have money to get their driver’s license or they don’t have money to get their birth certificate,” Madros said. “It’s just helping them get those little things taken care of so that they can deal with the bigger issue,” she said.

Funding for the program comes from the Office for Victims of Crime, part of the Office of Justice Programs within the U.S. Department of Justice. The OVC’s mission is to help and promote justice for crime victims.

About 65% of the Tribal Protective Service Program’s clients are from villages served by Tanana Chiefs Conference, though some clients have recently relocated to Fairbanks, Madros said.

“I am thinking of how much people could have been helped and were not getting anything when there wasn’t a program,” she said. “I’m imagining the next couple years just seeing this number go up and up and up, which will look sad — it means we have that many victims, yeah — but then we also will know that at least that’s that many people getting support.”

Reimer-Ely said that one of the most meaningful services they provide is letting clients know that “they aren’t alone” and “assisting them getting back on their feet, which in return helps with self-esteem, courage, resiliency, respect and confidence.”

She also highlighted “giving people hope.”

“Hope that when they fall, people are there to help them back up,” Reimer-Ely said. “Hope to be able to stand tall again. Hope that humanity is still present. Just plain hope is a powerful thing to have on your side.”

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at (907) 459-7587 or at anaiden@newsminer.com. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.

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