COVID pandemic creates hardship for victims of domestic violence

During the early days of COVID-19 closures, those working with victims of domestic violence sounded the alarm about the impact it has on those experiencing violence – which victims and children could be. stuck at home with their abusers and school counselors or co-workers would not have the opportunity to spot signs of abuse.

As the pandemic continues, there are other negative impacts that make it more difficult and dangerous for victims of domestic violence and their children, advocates say.

“We know everyone in the community has experienced some form of economic or social disruption in one way or another,” said Jamie Willis, program coordinator at Greene County Family Justice Center. “But for victims of domestic violence, these changes are really made worse because it makes leaving much more difficult.

Harmony House, Springfield's only shelter for victims of domestic violence, has had to reduce the number of adults in each room from four to one due to the pandemic.

“It gives the abuser a lot more control,” she continued. “We have all experienced some sort of isolation during the pandemic. But for victims of domestic violence, where this is already a tactic used by abusers, it allows that tactic to become much more effective.”

The moratorium on evictions, for example, made it difficult for some victims who were ready to leave their attackers, Willis said.

“There is a good reason to stop evictions during a pandemic, but it has made the availability of housing much more difficult,” she said. “People are not evicted, so there is no turnover of apartments or rental housing.

“If a survivor is ready to go, has the financial capacity to pay for their own apartment, finding an apartment right now is incredibly difficult,” said Willis. “It’s just one more hoop for the victims to go through.”

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Hundreds more victims of domestic violence have been turned away from the shelter

Another problem is that the courts are moving even slower than before the pandemic, Willis said.

“Going through the criminal justice system is already incredibly traumatic for victims,” said Willis. “When this is slowed down to a turtle-like speed, it’s just a lot harder to deal with because you don’t get that shutdown of,” Okay, I’m finally done and I haven’t seeing this person on a regular basis or answering questions about why I made the decisions I made in order to stay safe. ‘”

Harmony House, Greene County’s only shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children, is feeling the pressure.

The refuge is located in a renovated motel in South East Springfield and has 160 beds. But due to the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Harmony House has had to reduce the number of adults in each room.

Jamie Willis, program coordinator at the Greene County Family Justice Center, is touring the building on Thursday, April 1, 2021.

Executive Director Lisa Farmer, the reduction was phased in over the past year.

“At first we went from four single people per room to two,” Farmer said. “Then it became apparent that it was really difficult to quarantine two people if one person was exposed while they were on the move. We automatically had to quarantine their roommate, and it didn’t do anyone any good. “

The decision was made to reduce it to just one adult or one family per room.

“It automatically increased the number of people we had to turn away,” she said. Also, the fact that calls for shelter increased during COVID because people were trapped with their attacker, isolated. “

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Harmony House shared with the News-Leader its data regarding the number of people turned away and the reasons why in recent years.

The reasons people are turned away vary. Many are turned away because they are homeless and not really in a situation of domestic violence. Some are turned away because domestic violence was “not imminent”. Others are turned away because of the size of their families.

But the number of people who were turned away because the shelter was full last year and this year compared to years before COVID-19 was revealing:

Lisa Farmer is the Executive Director of Harmony House.

In 2018, 92 people (men, women and children) were turned away from Harmony House because the shelter was full.

In 2019, 32 people were turned away because the shelter was full.

In 2020 – with the social distancing protocol in place – Harmony House turned down 654 people because the shelter was at full capacity.

In the first six months of 2021, that number rose to 888 people.

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“COVID has made it very difficult for nonprofits to help the people we serve or want to serve for a variety of reasons,” Farmer said. “In our case, it was because we had to take social distance in a shelter. It had a huge impact on victims in our community who were unable to enter a shelter.”

“(The pandemic) has exacerbated the situation of domestic violence in general,” Farmer said. “There are a lot of people who are suffering behind closed doors due to quarantine and isolation and maybe they lost their jobs due to COVID and now they are trapped with their attacker. a very real scenario happening in our community. “

Help for victims of domestic violence always available

Sunni Nutt, director of operations at Harmony House, added that she didn’t want victims to see these numbers and thinks there’s no point in asking for help.

In addition to the shelter, Harmony House offers support through its outreach case management team, as well as safety planning resources. Harmony House also works closely with the Family Justice Center, which is in partnership with a number of service providers.

“There are other resources available most of the time, although we can’t house people,” Nutt said.

Farmer and Willis agreed.

“Even though our shelter is full, we still want you to call because we’ll continue to help you,” Farmer said. “We will help you access other services in the community.”

Throughout the pandemic – thanks to additional COVID-19 funding, grants, and partnerships with agencies like Burrell Behavioral Health and One Door – the Greene County Family Justice Center has been able to house many of the victims who are most at risk. looming in hotels and motels until a room becomes available in a refuge.

Jamie Willis is the program coordinator at Greene County Family Justice Center.

Willis said this was done by prioritizing the highest risk cases and placing them in a hotel room until there was room in a shelter, which hopefully is less than a week.

“A hotel is not a good option for a long term stay. It is also an expensive band-aid to the problem,” she said. “Our goal is to get them out of the dangerous situation and place them in a shelter where they are provided with meals, support services provided. We are trying to make this stay a short one.”

Another problem with accommodation for victims of domestic violence, advocates have found, is that many hotels in Springfield do not accept a guest with a local address. And sometimes when a victim leaves in a hurry, they leave their ID card behind. Many hotels do not allow someone to check in without ID. Some hotels are willing to work with the Family Justice Center, Willis said. Others don’t.

“It has been an eventful but well-coordinated effort between nonprofits in our community to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks,” said Willis. “It has been an extremely difficult time for the victims and also for the service providers as we try to figure out how to navigate this situation while ensuring the safety of our clients, staff and open doors.”

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Willis, once again, urges anyone reading this who needs help to contact the Family Justice Center.

“If anyone has any questions or thinks, ‘There is no way I can find a way to get over this situation,’ we can usually find a way to get over this situation,” said Willis. “We have a very well-trained multidisciplinary team that understands very well the resources available in the community and the options available. So I always encourage someone to call, as we can most likely help. “

Need help? Here are some resources in the Greene County area

The Greene County Family Justice Center is often described as a one-stop-shop for victims of abuse.

Walk-in people – anyone victim of any type of abuse – are welcome from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. The center is located at 1418 E. Pythian St. (the former Tefft School) in Springfield. You can also call 417-874-2600.

All services are free and there is no limit to the number of times a person can ask for help or information.

The center is made up of a wide range of public and non-profit agencies, with representatives from law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office, the state children’s division, legal services and lawyers. from the Victim Center and Harmony House, all in a safe place.

When a person comes to the center to ask for help, they are registered and examined. Then, a navigator explains which are the service providers at the center. The person requesting services decides who they want to talk to in the interview room.

They might want to talk to law enforcement and a prosecutor. Or they might only want to talk to Legal Services about getting a divorce or restraining order.

The services provided at the center are trauma-focused, survivor-centered and non-judgmental.

Victims and survivors at any point in the process are welcome.

To learn more about the Greene County Family Justice Center, visit

For after-hours assistance: Call the Harmony House / Victim Center 24-hour security line at 417-864-SAFE (7233).

About Elizabeth Smith

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