Domestic Violence Shelters

Domestic Violence Shelters
Struggle Amid Coronavirus

By Moe Ellis
The Razorback Reporter

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.— The Covid-19 pandemic causing a national state of emergency, some domestic violence shelters in Northwest Arkansas are having to cut back staffing, which can be particularly difficult for women fleeing violence at home.

“If you think statistically about domestic violence people are most likely home with abusive partners right now and this is a stressful time,” said Teresa Mills, executive director of Peace at Home Family Shelter in Fayetteville that specializes in help victims of domestic violence. “I think the risk for violence for survivors increases in times of distress which this certainly is.”

Mills decided to send home all of the Fayetteville based shelter’s employees at a higher risk of infection, so it is now running on about one-third of the normal staff. While Peace at Home Family Shelter stays open, other women’s shelters in the region have closed their office doors.

Though Peace at Home remains operational, Mills says she is concerned about the immediate effects COVID-19 could take on victims of abuse both in the shelter’s care and elsewhere. She adds many people in the shelter’s care can’t use the resources they need to stay afloat, such as driving people to the Social Security office to process their benefit checks. Since many people are being laid off while businesses continue to close, Mills says this makes it hard for the shelter’s residents to get work.

Amber Lacewell, community engagement and education director for Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter, said her shelter is operating similarly to Peace at Home. The staff needs to be flexible to cover all duties, such as increased cleaning. The services need to be adapted since the women in their care have children who can no longer attend school or daycare. Lacewell said they have also limited the number of people they shelter. “It has been especially challenging because there were very few guidelines at the start of how agencies that provide shelter can follow protocols for keeping people safe,” said Lacewell. The Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter now focuses on getting all the “kinks” worked out to make the shelter as full running as possible. 

Both Mills and Lacewell worry about how victims of abuse not in their care are holding up during the pandemic. “We tend to see higher stress times result in more violence and abuse and believe this is likely to happen with COVID-19,” said Lacewell

According to Women and Children First, one in four women will suffer abuse; in 2009,  18 Arkansas women were killed due to domestic violence. Shelters like the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter exist to give people affected by domestic violence a temporary, safe place to stay. It has a crisis hotline that is answered 24 hours a day.

According to the 2015 Homeless Report assembled by Kevin Fitzpatrick, a University of Arkansas sociology professor, nearly one in five homeless people interviewed experienced domestic violence.4 Over 90% of those respondents were women. From 2007 to 2015, there was an increase in homeless victims of domestic violence, going from 12% to 18%. Fitzpatrick said 22% of respondents said “personal crisis” was the reason for their homelessness, which could include domestic abuse.

Over the years, Northwest Arkansas’s homeless population has been on the rise. Now with the Coronavirus disease causing a national state of emergency, the shelters that many in the area rely on are forced to make changes. 

The future of these shelters during a national emergency remains unclear since they will likely face financial struggles and lack of personnel. Mills is going about the crisis by “minimizing traffic” in her shelter but still trying to provide a place of safety for those needing it. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the infrastructure of many shelters in the region, cutting the residents off from resources they need to make ends meet.

Though these changes help keep everyone safe involved with the shelters, they can also make it difficult for people in immediate danger the help or escape needed. 

While some shelters make large changes, others across the state are running as usual. Jordyn Efird with Saline County Safe Haven Inc. in Benton says one of the biggest setbacks for the shelter is the women’s loss of time with licensed clinical social workers. 

“We haven’t had our support group,” said Efird. “Our clients have been seeing our LCSW through video instead of in person.” 

Saline County Safe Haven, like most Northwest Arkansas shelters, have limited workers to three or four during the week. They have also asked the women in their care to refrain from going out unless it is necessary. Other than those few changes, Efird says things are about the same as they normally are. It will come of these shelters during this national emergency remains unclear. Like many businesses and organizations are facing economic struggles and lack of personnel. The Coronavirus has shifted the infrastructure of many shelters in the region, cutting the residence off from resources they need to make ends meet. 

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