While the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic, another public health crisis has slowly emerged due to the perfect storm the novel coronavirus has conjured. In the Upstate, domestic violence shelters have had to turn people away and refer them to other organizations because of the increase in people seeking help and the limited capacity the shelters have due to implementing new safety precautions.
Safe Harbor, which works with victims of domestic violence and their children, didn’t initially see an increase in calls to its emergency hotline, but that’s changed. It’s a trend observed on the state, national and international levels, the nonprofit organization’s executive director, Becky Callaham, says.
“COVID-19 is not going to cause domestic violence. Unemployment is not going to cause domestic violence,” says Callaham. However, she explains, domestic violence can erupt because of the simmering effect these issues have in the home, especially when families are stuck together for long periods of time. The pandemic has also caused an increase in substance abuse and gun purchases, both connected to higher rates of domestic violence. Women and children are most often the targets of this violence.
“All of that is a formula for a really dangerous blow-up,” warns Callaham, noting that rates of domestic violence often increase after pandemics and natural disasters.
In responding to the rise in domestic violence, Safe Harbor has had to ensure that their facilities adhere to safety guidelines to protect clients from the coronavirus. While restrictions were tightening in March, the organization decided to move clients from its shelters — which are family homes converted to house several families — to hotels.
While the nonprofit has been able to receive some community grants to help with the costs, it’s still been expensive, Callaham says. The organization is starting to move clients back to the shelters, but in a limited capacity.
Safe Harbor runs three shelters, with one each in Anderson, Greenville and Oconee counties. Due to the new guidelines in place, they’ve had to move from 66 beds across the shelters to only 27. Callaham says Safe Harbor plans to maintain some hotel rooms so they can provide shelter for more people.
As part of the move back to the shelters, Safe Harbor has made an Amazon Wish List for items that can help limit clients’ exposure to community areas in light of COVID-19. The organization is also accepting donations at its offices located at 429 N. Main St. in Greenville.
With the suspension of support networks provided by workplaces, schools and faith communities at the moment, it can be a dangerous time for many.
Callaham says, “The ability to provide services is critical now.”