Written by Jessica McLaughlin, Development and Communications Fellow of DC SAFE
Long before national headlines began highlighting the rise of domestic violence amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, DC SAFE– the District’s only 24/7 crisis intervention agency for domestic violence– was preparing for a surge. We understood that survivors forced to stay inside with their abusers could only lead to one outcome.
All at once, COVID-19 further isolated survivors from their personal support networks and resources. Family and friends who could once offer temporary help, even spaces of refuge, could no longer afford to do so amidst their own health and financial concerns. Along with that, many community resources were cut off. As such, we knew we had to do everything we could to ensure that DC SAFE was fully operational and that survivors had a reliable resource for immediate support.
We swiftly shifted gears the day that Mayor Muriel Bowser initiated stay-at-home orders, going almost fully remote on March 13, 2020. There was no time to be stunned; the situation called for immediate action. Our first priority was to figure out how to maintain normal operations for our 24/7 Crisis Response program and SAFE Space Crisis Shelter.
We had to invest in new equipment, like Voice over IP phones, for advocates to facilitate our Response Line from home. The Response Line has historically operated as a hotline for first responders, such as police officers, hospital personnel, and other community partners. However, amidst COVID-19, along with the increasing demand for more alternatives to 911 throughout the summer, our Response Line has become an even more vital community resource.
Furthermore, while the DC Superior Court’s two Domestic Violence Intake Centers have remained closed, we have been diligent in adapting to newly instated online processes for survivors seeking Civil Protection Orders and other court-based services. We have even provided virtual court accompaniments!
While we do our very best every day to provide high quality services remotely, some emergency services still demand in-person attention. For example, our On Call advocates continue to meet clients after hours to check into shelter or bring grocery store gift cards to survivors placed in hotels. Our advocates in the field have been pillars of strength during this difficult time, and we have relied on them tremendously to provide support and comfort to survivors in crisis.
Other equally critical work takes place more behind the scenes. In mid-June, for instance, we joined many of our partners, including the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to campaign for a FY21 District budget that prioritized the needs of survivors. In anticipating a second surge in requests for services as stay-at-home orders began to lift, we had to advocate for a budget that would match those future needs. We asked for a $5 million dollar addition to victim services across the city.
Included in the $5 million ask was $3 million to be allocated toward a new facility for our SAFE Space Crisis Shelter, which will be able to house over 700 survivors and their families each year when completed. This will double our current capacity. We are proud to report that the DC Council voted unanimously to include the $3 million in their final budget. This allows us to move forward with the project; and we are planning to break ground in early 2021!
While the $3 million allocation is a success worthy of celebration, there remains substantial needs around domestic violence in our community and we hope you’ll consider showing solidarity with survivors as COVID-19 continues. We will continue to do our part to remain clear and transparent about our needs and progress. We have taken several steps to accomplish this so far:
- Starting June 18th, we have shared weekly graphs on our social media accounts to showcase the work of our Response Line, reporting the total incoming calls and total minutes spent on the phone.
- We’ve also included important updates in our monthly newsletters.
- And we just launched a brand new COVID-19 Impact Dashboard on our website that provides up-to-date information regarding the work of our Response Line, SAFE Space Crisis Shelter, hotel placements, legal support. This page also contains links to helpful resources for clients and other providers amidst the pandemic.
Our goal is to show our community the most up-to-date data to display the real-time impact we see every day.
Lastly, we have seen the imperative to share our newfound knowledge and expertise both locally and globally. In partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, two of our team members led a training seminar, “Practical Guidance for Hotline Services for Women Survivors of Violence in the Context of COVID-19,” for domestic violence service providers located throughout Latin America. We are all in this together and we know there is enormous value in sharing our resources.
Amidst all of our efforts throughout the pandemic, we have been so acutely focused on our responsibility to survivors, so it was a real honor to hear our colleague, Cortney Fisher, Deputy Director of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, recently share this: “We often think about in our office when things can’t seem crazier and we actually say to ourselves ‘DC SAFE does this and more!’ You’re literally holding DC together right now, and as much as it doesn’t feel like it, you’re one speck of hope and help in what may seem like a no win situation for many, many people.”
We are so grateful for our incredible community of supporters, partner organizations, fellow advocates, survivors, and neighbors. The immediate future is still very uncertain, and at times overwhelming. But we have a network of formidable women and forward-thinking men who will see us through COVID-19 to the other side. And we will move forward together.