The COVID Effect: Increased demand for shelter and community support
The following article is the final installment of a five-week series focusing on raising awareness about domestic violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and we hope to educate our community on this very important issue Locally, the Hays-Caldwell Women’s Center has been serving victims of domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and child abuse since 1978. Last year, HCWC served 2,055 victims of abuse (face-to-face) primarily from Hays and Caldwell Counties. 816 of those were victims of domestic violence.
In 2021, the United Nations coined the phrase “shadow pandemic” in a report that examined the unprecedented increase in violence against women that occurred during the COVID pandemic. The American Journal of Emergency Medicine estimates that domestic violence cases increased by 25 to 33 percent worldwide during the pandemic. In the United States, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is reporting an all-time high of over 80,000 contacts monthly from individuals seeking assistance for interpersonal abuse. Similarly, HCWC has experienced a significant increase in individuals seeking information and assistance through our HELPline, with our call volume up 13% through August 2022.
Risk factors inherent in the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions have had unintended consequences for those experiencing domestic violence. The transition to work from home and online school, which resulted from stay-at-home orders, has isolated survivors and reduced outlets for support, such as coworkers, teachers, family, and friends. Loss of employment and income and inflation caused by ongoing supply chain issues has increased financial stress within relationships. Efforts to keep everyone safe in the midst of the pandemic have unintentionally increased the number of individuals experiencing violence within their homes and the severity of violence many are experiencing.
As a result of heightened demand for safe accommodations, in 2021, HCWC experienced an unprecedented 52% increase in shelter “bed days” (the equivalent of daily attendance). To date in 2022, that number has increased an additional 6%, and the total number of individuals entering shelter has increased 30%. While these statistics are unsettling, they are not surprising. HCWC’s McCoy Family Violence Shelter remained at or beyond capacity for the majority of the year, often utilizing overflow spaces to accommodate survivors seeking safety.
Recently, the Hays County Commissioners Court awarded HCWC $644,000 in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to help mitigate some of the increased expenditures that resulted from enhanced health and safety measures due to COVID. With a portion of this funding, HCWC is planning an expansion of our existing shelter space. Construction is slated to begin in the next few weeks to add four additional bedrooms in our existing family violence shelter and increase our total capacity by approximately 10 individual beds to better meet the demand we have experienced during the past two years.
The County Commissioners are not the only entity that have increased support during this difficult period. HCWC has experienced an overall increase in local support which allowed the Center to complete the construction and open Marla’s Place, The Marla R. Johnson Family Housing Center, to provide longer term housing to those fleeing violence and abuse. HCWC has been able to leverage their community partnerships to provide life-saving services to more and more community members.
To learn more about HCWC and the agency’s response to the growing needs in the communities we serve please join us for our Annual Meeting on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a meeting link. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please contact our HELPline at 512-396-4357. Advocates are available 24/7 daily.