Minnesota Secretary of State visits North Shore Horizons
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon stopped by North Shore Horizons in Two Harbors to talk with executive director Jean Sewell and advocate Amy Swenson about the state's "Safe at Home" program.
The Safe at Home program establishes a confidential mailing address for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and others who fear for their safety. The program establishes a substitute address for participants and their mail is then forwarded to them by the Secretary of State's office at no charge to the individual. Public and private entities must accept the Safe at Home address as a true address and the program helps survivors of harm go about their daily lives without risk of their abusers discovering their actual address.
"The Safe at Home program is not going to be the big headline grabber, usually, for our office," Simon said. "But I don't need to tell you that it's extremely critical and important."
Simon said there were two things worth emphasizing about the program to advocates and others providing information to survivors. First, he wanted to make sure people considering using the program should know that it's voluntary program and no one should be pushed into the program.
"We want to create as strong a program as possible, but never to be in the position of pushing it on people," Simon said. "The whole idea is you know far better than we can in our office what is right and what is a good fit for the people that you serve."
Sewell said it really works well with the mission at NSH, which focuses on clients' "self-determination." Clients at NSH are encouraged to make choices based on what they believe is best
"The basis of our organization is that everyone, victim or not, needs to choose their own path," she said.
Simon also emphasized the security of the program and the limited access to information in the Safe at Home office. The very location of the office is on a "need to know basis" in Simon's office and all the participants' true addresses are kept on a non-networked computer to ensure security. There were even other security precautions taken with the program that Simon couldn't reveal at the meeting.
Simon went on to say that the program had reached a "bittersweet" milestone recently when the program went over 2,000 enrollees at one time.
"I say it's bittersweet because on the one hand, people are taking advantage of the program's opportunity and on the other hand it's bad that people need it," Simon said. "We have this half-joking discussion all the time that we'd love nothing better than to work ourselves out of a job."
Simon first started working with the Safe at Home program while he was still a member of the Minnesota Legislature representing Hopkins and St. Louis Park. He worked with then-Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to pass legislation that designated children of enrollees as enrollees as well. Currently, he is working with the Legislature to iron out some details with the state's REAL ID program. The program will bring Minnesota's driver's license and state-issued identification cards into compliance with federal standards.The main stumbling block right now is ensuring that participants can use their Safe at Home address on the new IDs.
Simon's visit was part of his policy to visit all 87 Minnesota counties at least once each year. He had just come from a meeting about small businesses with the Cook County Chamber of Commerce in Grand Marais, which he did last year in Two Harbors, and a couple of years ago he met with the Lake County auditor regarding election policies.
"I can't do my job just sitting in a cocoon in St. Paul," he said. "We have lots of relationships, partnerships and duties and responsibilities and we've really just got to get out there."