In over forty years of providing services to Westmoreland County, Blackburn Center has helped thousands of residents heal and regain a sense of hope after the devastating impact of domestic violence, sexual assault, or other types of violence of crime. Yet despite reaching so many people through these efforts, we knew that in some situations, we are not reaching some of our most vulnerable citizens. That is why we have undertaken a new project designed to ensure that everyone who needs us has access to our services.
In 2016, Blackburn Center applied for and received a grant through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) to start our UP program. UP stands for Underserved Populations, and is initially designed to reach four key demographics: residents of Westmoreland County who are (1) 60 and older; (2) dealing with mental health issues; (3) victims of human trafficking; or (4) live in outlying parts of the county. Based on our research, we knew that these groups of people had a need for our services, but may have barriers that prevented them from seeking help. This grant will help Blackburn Center close that gap, and make sure that every resident who would benefit from our services will be able to utilize them.
For example, we know that Westmoreland County is a geographically large area. At 1,027 square miles, it is the eighth largest county in the state, and had a population of 359,320 people as of 2014. Public transportation is limited through much of the county, and cab service is either not available or expensive. The courthouse and many support services — including Blackburn Center’s office — are located in Greensburg. This can present a challenge for a victim of violence or crime who wants to seek help, but lacks the means to travel to Greensburg. As part of the UP program, Blackburn Center has hired a credentialed therapist who is traveling to outlying areas of Westmoreland County to work with victims of crime and violence. Our UP Program team has identified safe sites in these locations where victims can access our services in a secure, confidential setting. We are continuing to identify these satellite locations so that people throughout Westmoreland County can receive Blackburn Center services. Our team is also working with businesses and organizations throughout Westmoreland County to raise awareness about Blackburn Center and the services that we offer so that fewer needs go unmet in our community.
We also know that Westmoreland County has a higher percentage of seniors than other counties in Pennsylvania, and than in the United States as a whole. Elder abuse is a growing crime, with some estimating that only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse are reported. This represents another population that is underserved, and where our organization can improve its outreach efforts. Through the UP program, Blackburn Center is partnering with Westmoreland County’s Area Agency on Aging (AAA) and senior centers around the county to reach more seniors in Westmoreland County who may require our services. Our UP Program team is also visiting senior living residences and centers across Westmoreland County to spread awareness of our services, to be sure victims of elder abuse or their loved ones know how to reach us in their time of need.
In addition to outlying areas and seniors, Blackburn Center will also be working directly with local government agencies and organizations to implement strategies to reach victims of human trafficking, to train professionals on recognizing human trafficking, and to provide services to victims of violence and crime who are also dealing with mental health issues. Our next steps will be to expand our UP program to include people with physical disabilities and the LGBTQ community, with the ultimate goal to have addressed any barrier that would limit victims of violence or crime from receiving the services that Blackburn Center offers.