In 2019 Working Wheels received a grant of $45,000 over two years to increase its capacity to repair donated vehicles and expand its program with Helpmate to meet 100% of the need for dependable cars for survivors of intimate partner violence. For many survivors of abuse, access to a car is essential in being able to escape an unsafe environment, earn an income, stay independent, and break the cycle of violence. According to Jodi Wygmans, Helpmate’s Case Management Coordinator, Helpmate needs 18 vehicles per year to guarantee that a car is available for all qualified clients who need one. The investment from Women for Women will allow Working Wheels to increase the number of cars to Helpmate’s clients from 6 to 18 per year.
During the first 11 months, Working Wheels provided 10 Helpmate clients with a vehicle. Working Wheels was on pace to provide all of Helpmate’s needed cars, until February. Because of Covid-19 there were fewer vehicle applications from Helpmate, and a considerable slow-down in donated vehicles. Since inventory of potential program cars was lower than usual and the community was facing a unique crisis, Working Wheels initiated a pilot program to provide discounted vehicle repairs to essential workers who are unable to afford the repairs on the vehicle they already own. Program participants will continue to be referred by Helpmate and a small group of other current referral partners. Essential workers are critical to the functioning of our city and health of the people and many of these workers are experiencing additional financial strain due to the pandemic. This new program will enable Working Wheels to still reach its original goal of providing 36 survivors with dependable transportation during the two-year period, even with reduced numbers being identified by Helpmate.
In a January 2020 survey of program participants, 56% report an improvement in their housing, 74% report an increase in their income, 88% report an improvement in their quality of life, and 96% report that a car enables them to more easily access their medical appointments.
The case managers from Helpmate as well as the program participants continue to state that a dependable vehicle is a critical piece of the puzzle to escape an unsafe environment and prevent further abuse. Sherri, referred by Helpmate on December 31, 2019, said, “I had to make my husband leave the home for safety reasons. I have been a stay-at-home mom babysitting other children for extra money. We live in the county where there is no bus line. This vehicle will enable me to find full-time employment, take my special-needs child to her appointments, obtain groceries, and so many other things. Thank you!”