GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County organization dedicated to getting people out of violent relationships is shutting down.

The Domestic Assault Response Team is about to run out of funding.

Based out of Grand Rapids’ 61st District Court, advocates with DART would respond with police to domestic calls to connect people with services.

When Target 8 reported in October that the state had cut DART’s grant funding, shifting dollars to other domestic violence programs, the city of Grand Rapids stepped in with temporary funds. But those funds have run out and efforts to find replacement dollars failed.

“We have to acknowledge we have a critical gap right now in services,” Rachel VerWys of domestic abuse outreach program Safe Haven Ministries said. “I think that’s really concerning considering the amount of domestic homicides we’re seeing in the community.”

So far this year, at least 10 people in Kent County have died in domestic-related cases. Four were children. The latest was an apparent triple murder-suicide in Wyoming in which police say a man killed his girlfriend and two of her children before turning the gun on himself.

“The number just keeps going up,” Kent County Assistant Prosecutor Rachel Wustman, who prosecutes domestic abuse cases, said.

She said there’s speculation that the effects of the COVID-19 quarantine — prolonged isolation in close quarters to family and limited access to mental health treatment — are catching up.

She added that domestic violence is often hidden and it’s not uncommon for a murder to be the first time police are made aware of it.

“It’s one of those things that I think is sort of kept in the household,” Wustman said. “It’s not brought to the public eye.”

The parents of 24-year-old Marissa Valdez had no idea their beloved daughter was in danger. But in September, police say, her boyfriend shot her nine times during an argument in their home on Grand Rapids’ northeast side. The couple’s two young children were likely in the room at the time. Valdez was pregnant.

An undated courtesy photo of Marissa Valdez.
An undated courtesy photo of Marissa Valdez.

Grand Rapids police had never responded to a domestic violence call at the home.

That was the case in the Wyoming triple murder-suicide, too — no history of domestic violence calls to the home.

“Seems like it comes out of nowhere,” Wustman said, “and everyone’s asking questions: What was happening in that household before that? Was there things happening and we just kind of missed it?”

61st District Court Administrator Tanya Todd told Target 8 that while current DART funding is set to run out at the end of the month, the court is already rolling out a new service model. Instead of sending a team member to the site of a domestic violence case, someone calls all domestic assault victims and offer resources.

“This has worked out better (during the pandemic) because often times the victims are more likely to reach out to our worker in the following day or two and through email or text,” Todd explained in an email. “She is also the same person the victims have continued contact with and it provides an opportunity to build trust with a single person.”

Todd said the worker is also no longer burdened with the administrative responsibilities of running a team.

“Further, while providing victims with the assistance they need is critical, as a neutral entity we did not feel the court was the best focal point for a team, in an effort to continue to act as an impartial forum,” Todd wrote. “Fortunately, there are many wonderful organizations that exist in our county.”

Safe Haven Ministries can be reached anytime by calling or texting 616.452.6664.