Domestic violence shelters are bracing for a second wave in demand for resources, counseling, and beds as quarantine guidances have eased across the country, and survivors are better able to leave their homes and seek help.
The problem is, most of them never recovered from the first one.
Shelters began to register the effects of the pandemic just days into lockdown in March 2020, when advocates and staff told Jezebel they had started to hear from survivors who said their abusers were “leveraging covid-19 to further isolate, increase fear, and manipulate [them].” Since then, they’ve been inundated with calls and requests for help from people for whom the universal mandate to “stay home” meant quarantining with their abusers.
The result is a state of emergency for shelters, which are struggling to recover from the pandemic just as need is expected to spike again. Some have been forced to temporarily turn people away, while at the same time teetering on the brink of closure.
“Survivors reach out to us and we have to put them on a waiting list,” Faith Power, the executive director of a Virginia-based shelter, said in an interview with The Lily. “And we can give them absolutely no idea of when we can provide support.”
Power’s shelter, The Laurel Center, is reportedly facing drastic budget cuts from U.S. Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund (CVF), which reduced its funding by $610,000 over the next two years. According to the Northern Virginia Daily, the cuts mean Power will likely have to reduce its services and lay off staff: She has already had to shut down one of Laurel’s satellite offices, which provided counseling to domestic abuse and sexual assault victims in the area.
“I’m mad as hell about this,” Power told the outlet. “It’s coming at a time when, quite frankly, we are experiencing an all-time high demand for our services, due in no small part to COVID and its impact.”
Though some shelters were able to receive funding through the Cares Act, the first covid relief bill, the organizations are still largely subject to the ebbs and flows of federal funding streams like CVF and the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which both draw their funds primarily from fines and court payments made for federal offenses.
The Lily reports these funds have seen “historically low deposits,” something Ruth Glenn, president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she’s “very concerned” about with regards to shelters’ ability to stay afloat and continue providing the same breadth of services.
In May, the Biden administration reportedly began distributing $200 million in aid to support victims of domestic abuse, with a special focus on putting the money toward advocacy groups and housing vouchers. But there’s been little news since as to which groups have received the funds and whether survivors are benefitting from the aid. And shelter directors don’t seem to feel very confident that help is on the way.
“Right now, even without these cuts, we have a wait list for some of our therapy services,” Power told the Northern Virginia Daily earlier this month. “Some people have already been on that list for a year. ... The fact that people are waiting longer for our services really compounds the trauma that they’re experiencing.”