Empowering Rural Communities: Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence's GIS Program Revolutionizes Domestic Violence Support
For more than four decades, the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence (MSCFV) has been at the forefront of providing comprehensive services to domestic violence victims in Maryland's rural mid-shore counties. With its commitment to empowering survivors and addressing the unique challenges faced by rural communities, MSCFV leverages geographic information system (GIS) technology to revolutionize the way domestic violence victims access vital resources. Applying a geographic approach to their programs and initiatives has earned them recognition, notably the prestigious Domestic Shelters Purple Ribbon Award.
A Need for Location-Based Solutions
Since its establishment in 1980, MSCFV has been a crucial lifeline for domestic violence survivors in Maryland's rural mid-shore counties. The region's rural nature is characterized by key industries such as farming, fishing, tourism, and healthcare. To meet their unique rural challenges, MSCFV knew they needed to apply location-based solutions to provide comprehensive services and efficient case management.
During their time with the agency, survivors receive a variety of services from case management to legal representation, housing support, economic empowerment, and other supports for their journey. These services impact survivors and their families in many tangible and intangible ways.
Rural victims of domestic violence encounter unique challenges that compound the difficulties of escaping abusive situations. Economic constraints, limited employment opportunities, transportation limitations, lack of affordable housing, the need to leave with pets, community misconceptions, social and geographic isolation, child care constraints, and food insecurity contribute to the complexity of their circumstances. In addition, the social cohesion of rural communities can make it hard to access help.
GIS Applications: A Beacon of Hope for Victims
Recognizing the pressing need to address these barriers, MSCFV embarked on an innovative journey to leverage GIS technology. The MSCFV ArcGIS Hub was built to empower victims by facilitating access to safe and affordable housing, transportation options, and local community resources. The organization needed a one-stop shop for clients to identify where they can find basic necessities such as food and medical care, as well as connectivity information like WiFi hotspots and cell service coverage crucial for clients living in relative isolation. The program transitioned from an initial partnership with a local college to an in-house deployment hosted with Amazon Web Services to ensure greater control over scheduling and data management.
Created using ArcGIS Online, MSCFV Hub integrates data from various sources, including popular rental property platforms like Zillow.com, Apartments.com, Realtor.com, and affordable housing options from MDHousingSearch.org. This comprehensive database also provides critical information on services and resources surrounding a chosen housing location, including schools, medical facilities, grocery stores, law enforcement agencies, courthouses, and local social service organizations. This allows MSCFV to help clients make the best possible decisions when seeking housing.
The Impact: Winning the Domestic Shelters Purple Ribbon Award
The MSCFV GIS program has gained significant recognition for its transformative impact on domestic violence support throughout the state. The program's dedication to providing crucial resources has been indispensable in ensuring the safety and well-being of victims and their families.
As one MSCFV client stated: “Surprisingly, here [this rural area] would be the last place I would think I would get any help; I think in the city there would be more resources or somewhere where there’s more people and organizations involved. I mean, I just can’t believe how smoothly everything has gone! I mean, it isn’t smooth ‘cause it’s scary and you don’t know what’s gonna happen next, but looking back on it in a timeline, everything just fell into place and seriously, it was all Mid‐Shore.… they’ve hooked me up with attorneys, the care packages, with transportation, with um, energy assistance, food stamps, medical assistance, just resources in the community, support groups, things like that.”
These achievements, coupled with the program's commitment to leveraging innovative technology to support survivors, led to MSCFV being honored with a prestigious Domestic Shelters Purple Ribbon Award as the Rural Initiative of the Year 2023.
Sally’s story shows the important role GIS technology plays in our client services. Sally reached out to MSCFV in early 2021 for assistance for herself and two young children, to escape an abusive relationship. In addition to providing legal assistance, advocacy, and emotional support, MSCFV enrolled Sally in the transitional housing program. Sally used that time to obtain a divorce, start a business, and heal emotionally. Recently the GIS Hub assisted her in searching for a house to purchase. Today Sally and her children are enjoying the safety and security of their own home, thanks to the streamlined services easily found in the GIS Hub.
A Glimpse into the Future: Expanding Services and Empowering Clients
Looking ahead, MSCFV aims to further expand its GIS applications to better serve domestic violence survivors and the wider community. The organization plans to develop client-facing applications focused on employment and housing, empowering survivors to rebuild their lives and achieve self-sufficiency. In addition, they would like to create portals that extend support to other victim services, including law enforcement, legal services, and youth services, fostering collaboration, and strengthening the network of resources available to those in need.
The Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence's GIS program has emerged as a beacon of hope for domestic violence survivors in rural communities and throughout Maryland. By addressing the unique challenges faced by victims, the program has revolutionized access to vital resources, empowering survivors on their path from victimhood to self-sufficiency. With an illustrious history, impactful achievements, and ambitious plans for the future, MSCFV is poised to continue leading the charge in leveraging technology and collaboration to support and uplift those affected by domestic violence in Maryland's rural mid-shore counties.