UPTOWN — The Howard Area Community Center in Rogers Park is seeing an uptick in calls from survivors of domestic violence and their supporters amid the pandemic.
Staff at the community center are trained to handle such calls and normally refer people to local shelters and safe havens. But those shelters are already full, said Maxine Bailey, development director at the community center.
The uptick in demand for assistance throughout the city comes just as shelters are reducing capacity so people staying there can practice social distancing.
“The increase in calls, that’s true for us,” Bailey said. “We’ve been purchasing vouchers for temporary hotel stays.”
Calls to domestic violence hotlines and support groups have increased since the coronavirus outbreak hit Chicago, officials say. The Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline received 825 calls from the Chicago area in March, according to the city’s Department of Family and Support Services. That’s a 6 percent increase over March 2019.
April’s year-over-year totals actually decreased, but this April still saw a 9 percent increase in calls compared to March, a department spokesperson said.
The crisis and statewide shutdown have upended normal routines like work and church, which can provide a respite from violence, while people are struggling with frustration and domestic strife, advocates said.
“Perpetrators of domestic violence are sheltering in place, too,” said Stephanie Love-Patterson, executive director of the Humboldt Park-based Connections for Abused Women and their Children. “There may be increased tension. Maybe someone lost employment. Perpetrators of domestic violence will use anything that’s going on to [rationalize] their actions.”
Neha Gill, executive director of Uptown-based organization Apna Ghar, said there was a dramatic increase in demand for domestic violence help even in the early days of the stay at home order, which went into effect March 21.
“We’re seeing an increase in abuse and the severity of the abuse,” Gill said. “People were wanting to make arrangements right at the beginning” of the outbreak.
Apna Ghar, which means “our home” in Hindi, was already at capacity in its shelter and 12 apartments before the outbreak. As the organization learned it would have to reduce shelter capacity, staffers noticed some residents had symptoms of COVID-19, Gill said.
Apna Ghar shut down its shelter and moved about 30 families into hotel rooms. In anticipation of the shelter re-opening, its staff is working with the Hamdard Health Center to learn how to properly social distance its residents and disinfect the facility.
“It was difficult to keep the facility open,” Gill said. “We’re not trained to be a health care facility, but now we have to be one.”
Connections for Abused Women reduced its shelter capacity from 42 residents to 30. Like other domestic violence groups, it is paying to put up individuals and families in hotels despite being strapped for cash, Love-Patterson said.
The city and state are seeking to help. In early April, the state announced it was partnering with Airbnb to provide hotel rooms for victims of domestic violence. The city also has a partnership with Lyft and Uber to provide victims free rides to safe havens.
“We understand that the stay at home order has the potential to exacerbate the already traumatic circumstances for Chicagoans experiencing violence at home …,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a news release.
The pandemic has brought to light the vital nature of domestic violence organizations and the funding crunches they face, officials said. Domestic violence shelter beds were already at a premium before the crisis. Now, they hope the situation will be different moving forward.
“This is obviously a long-term problem,” Gill said. “The fallout will be intense.”
People seeking help can call the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline at 877-863-6338.
How To Help Victims Of Domestic Violence
Have a code word or a signal with a friend suffering from domestic violence, like a specific light left on in a certain window, Love-Patterson said.
Supporters can use COVID-19 as an excuse to check in on people, or slip in a note with a delivery of emergency goods.
“Create reasons to check in with people, and make sure that you keep your eye on things,” Love-Patterson said.
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