Advocates for healing

Making a difference: Pictured are (from left) Colleen Costello, victim advocate; Megan Torpey, office administrator and victim advocate; Barbara Deeley, executive director; and Kerstin Dukes, court advocate. MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

On May 5, Northeast Victim Service will host an open house for the community to meet victim advocates and learn how the agency can help them or their loved ones.

Northeast Victim Service is celebrating its 25th year helping Northeast Philadelphia’s crime victims recover emotionally and financially from potentially devastating life events.

But for much of that time, the nonprofit agency has been fighting its own burdensome struggle. NEVS has had an identity crisis of sorts.

A lot of Northeast folks have never heard of it. And among those who know the name, what NEVS does can still be a mystery.

That the agency had been using an unmarked, hard-to-find second-floor office on Cottman Avenue as its headquarters contributed to its low profile. But under the leadership of a new executive director, former Philadelphia Sheriff Barbara Deeley, NEVS recently moved into a highly visible storefront on Castor Avenue in Rhawnhurst. On May 5, NEVS will welcome the community to tour the new space, meet the victim advocates and learn how the agency can help them or their loved ones.

MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

The open house at 8014 Castor will last from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and include visits by Northeast-based public officials. Mayor Jim Kenney may even show up, Deeley said. State Rep. Ed Neilson’s staff will have the shortest distance to travel. Neilson recently opened a district office in the same building, sharing a floor with the NEVS advocates.

“This office is a lot better because people are walking by. They may have been a victim of crime and not know about us. We’re on a main street. We’re more visible and more accessible than the other office,” Deeley said.

“We just want the community to know we’re here,” said Colleen Costello, a victim advocate. “We offer walk-in services. And if we can’t help you, we can refer you to someone who can help you.”

NEVS was founded in 1992 and has a staff of three full-time advocates and one part-timer, in addition to the executive director. Deeley was appointed to the job late last year.

Megan Torpey is the office administrator and advocate for crime victims from the 8th and 15th police districts. Costello is the advocate for the 7th and 15th districts. Kerstin Dukes is the court advocate and spends most of her time with victims attending hearings at the city’s Criminal Justice Center. Xiomara Claudio is the newest addition to the staff. She’s a part-time victim advocate and Spanish language translator. NEVS is trying to incorporate additional translation services for South Asian and Chinese languages.

MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

“The Northeast is very, very big and very diverse but a lot of people think nothing goes on up here, that no crime goes on,” Deeley said.

“And that’s a big misconception. Northeast Philly has more people than the city of Pittsburgh,” Torpey said.

NEVS gets most of its funding from public grants, along with some private donations. The District Attorney’s Office and the federal Victims of Crime Act fund, which is administered in Pennsylvania by the Commission on Crime and Delinquency, are the two biggest sources. VOCA money doesn’t come from tax dollars. Rather, it’s money collected from fines assessed against defendants in federal criminal courts.

Many labor and community organizations contributed money, supplies and labor for the move and remodeling of the new NEVS office, including Rhawnhurst Athletic Association, Plumbers Local 690, IUPAT District Council 21, Electricians Local 98, Sheetmetal Workers Local 19, Teamsters Local 830, Plasterers Local 592, Laborers Local 332, City Councilman Bobby Henon and City Commissioner Lisa Deeley.

Meanwhile, NEVS helps local crime victims apply for and collect compensation through another federal fund, the Victims Compensation Assistance Program, which is administered by Pennsylvania’s Office of Victim Services. Last year, NEVS helped about 2,800 victims, who collected about $275,000 in compensation for a variety of costs incurred as a result of crime.

Victims and their loved ones may be eligible for reimbursement for medical, counseling, transportation, relocation and funeral expenses, loss of earnings, loss of support for dependent children and crime scene cleanup. Victims can collect money to recoup losses when a caregiver misuses their pension or Social Security benefits.

Emotionally, victim advocates can accompany crime victims and witnesses to court when they are called to testify.

“My main focus is to go in and explain to victims what’s going to happen that day,” Dukes said. “For a lot of people, their only experience with court is Judge Judy on TV and that’s not like real court.”

The advocate will also explain how other procedures like suspect lineups and protection order applications work.

“(Dukes) can take that extra five or ten minutes and step outside with someone to explain things to them when the prosecutor can’t because they have a lot of other cases,” Torpey said.

MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

There are several requirements to take advantage of what NEVS has to offer. The crime must have been reported within 72 hours of its occurrence. The victim or witness must cooperate fully with police and prosecutors and must not have been involved in criminal activity.

“We try to help victims back to where they were prior to the crime financially and emotionally,” Torpey said.

The May 5 event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. Visit the Northeast Victim Service page on Facebook for more information. ••

William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com. Follow the Times on Twitter @NETimesOfficial.