Domestic violence service providers preparing for “spike” in requests


EAST CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — With domestic violence service providers across the state continuing to offer alternative housing, counseling, and take calls on 24/7 hotlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, it might not be completely accurate to call the current moment a “calm before a storm.”

But some providers say a storm — or at least a surge in requests for domestic violence-related services — is exactly what’s in order once Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mandatory, Stay-At-Home order is lifted.

“People (right now) are trapped in their homes and can’t get out and don’t have a chance to call for help,” Illinois Coalition of Domestic Violence executive director Vickie Smith said. “When this stay-in-place order is lifted, we expect to see a spike.”

Hotline traffic — or calls made to shelters seeking refuge, information or other help in abusive situations — varies from provider to provider around the state.

Smith, whose Springfield-based organization is comprised of 50 domestic violence agencies across the state, said that in general “what I am hearing from (our) member programs is that (calls) went up some before the act… but the calls are down right now.”

That tracks with Courage Connection’s experience so far, marketing and communications manager Osajuli Cravens said.

“At the moment, we have not seen an increase (in calls),” she said. “However, we are making sure we are prepared for anything that might happen. Right now, we’re wondering if people — they may not be aware that services are still available, or the fear of domestic violence might be trumped by the fear of the coronavirus, so they don’t want to go into a shelter. A lot of people need to know that these services are absolutely still available.”

Regarding calls, Urbana’s Rape Advocacy, Counseling and Education Services executive director Adelaide Aime said those to R.A.C.E.S. dropped initially following the implementation of the Stay-At-Home order on March 21.

Then, earlier this month, the calls increased.

“The first two weeks of the stay-at-home order were relatively quiet,” Aime wrote in an email. “Around the first of April, the calls picked up and now we are seeing about double our usual number of hotline calls.”

Teri Ducy, the executive director of DOVE, Inc. in Decatur, said her organization — which serves five counties, including DeWitt, Piatt, Macon, Moultrie and Shelby — has seen “an influx” in informational calls, but it’s not like what the organization is bracing for following the Stay-At-Home order’s eventual expiration.

“We’re waiting for the spike,” she said. “We know it’s going to come. It’s just kind of scary, uneasy. This is just such an unprecedented time.”

In early April, state officials announced that the Illinois Department of Human Services was routing an additional $1.2 million in funding to “increasing the capacity of its current statewide network of services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors during the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

Smith said some of that money is going toward additional expenses shelters are facing due to social distancing. With shelters being largely communal, some people may need to be housed in hotel or motel rooms, incurring transportation, food and other related costs — which will “go up and continue to go up.”

The state, she said, is, on multiple levels, not ready for what happens once the order is lifted.

Cravens said it’s possibly that once “the economy really starts to hit people,” already-tense situations could grow worse with the financial stress.

“There are a lot of people without work,” she said. “That stress from wondering if a bill will be paid or if we’ll have money to sustain next month just adds to that pressure.”

Regardless of whether a spike occurs or not, providers repeatedly emphasized that domestic violence-related services continue to be offered — the only difference being in how they’re delivered.

At R.A.C.E.S, “four counselors are continuing to provide trauma-focused therapy to around 20 clients each week,” Aime wrote. “Our advocate talks with people by phone about their court cases or about seeking orders of protection. And our medical advocates are on the phone with victims who are in the emergency room for post-assault treatment.”

DOVE, Inc. closed its shelter to have professional cleaning done, Ducy said, but the organization could put people up in hotel rooms; assistance with court orders of protection and 24/7 hotline availability remains ongoing.

Courage Connection’s shelter remains open and people are screened “to make sure they’re healthy” and if they tell staff that they don’t feel well, staff will assist with trying to find a hotel or make “sure they get proper medical treatment first,” Cravens said.

“Our counselors have gone from where they’re meeting with people face-to-face to being able to provide a phone call or… different video chats set up so people can still get that therapy,” she said. “We are accepting new clients as well. It’s a little bit more difficult with e-filing to get an order of protection but our advocates are still available to help (and) we had a successful one go through last week.”

Much of how an agency responds to a potential influx of requests for these services later on depends on a variety of factors, including what kind of resources and money they had before the state announced the additional funding.

Overall, Smith said, the state’s domestic violence providers are not ready for that influx.

“The ramifications for this are going to be around for a while,” she said. “We’re not prepared for any of this. We’re going to need a lot of help for folks once we can get back out.”

Courage Connection’s 24-hour Domestic Violence hotline can be reached at 1-877-384-4390. DOVE, Inc.’s can be reached at 217-423-2238. R.A.C.E.S. can be reached at 217-384-4444 or via their toll-free hotline at 1-877-236-3727. The Illinois domestic violence hotline can be reached at 1-877-863-6338.

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