CORONAVIRUS

Domestic violence shelters working to keep doors open as coronavirus stress rises and donations fall

Coronavirus stress increasing need for help, as donations flatten

Silhouettes with the stories of victims of domestic violence are displayed in 2017 at the Iowa City Public Library. Dome
Silhouettes with the stories of victims of domestic violence are displayed in 2017 at the Iowa City Public Library. Domestic violence shelters expect the stresses heightened by the coronavirus will bring more domestic violence reports, with increased need for their services, at the time when donations are flat. (The Gazette)

Coronavirus advisories telling people to shelter in their homes present an added difficulty to people at risk of domestic violence who are living with their abusers.

Most domestic violence shelters in the nation expect the demands for their help increase and to keep increasing the longer the health crisis lasts, according to Lindsey Pingel of Des Moines, director of community engagement for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“There are concerns among a lot of these organizations is that they will run out of resources and space, and that is that is a very valid concern.” she said.

“At the same time, we are all seeing a decline in the donations that we need to provide those services. You know, food pantries are getting fewer donations, and some of our shelters work with food pantries to feed their guests, so multiple organizations are going to struggle with this if this goes on for weeks or months.

“There is a real concern, especially among the smaller and more rural shelters, about whether they will be able to keep their doors open. ... Right now, it’s hard to predict how this will play out.”

Domestic violence shelters in the Corridor now have staff members providing services and working with clients by telephone, video conference or text messages rather than in-person.

“Yes, our shelter still is open,” said Alta Medea-Peters, director of community engagement for the Domestic Violence Intervention Program in Iowa City.

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“We are still providing safe shelter for individuals in need of that, our 24-hour hotline still is up and running and it will be the entire time, and we are still providing outreach and advocacy services.”

Medea-Peters said her organization is working with local hostels and landlords, trying to secure discounted rooms or short-term leases, so they can spread out their guests and provide the distancing needed to keep their clients safe.

Waypoint, in Cedar Rapids, is facing the same hurdles.

“The biggest challenge that our programs are seeing right now is housing,” said J’nae Peterman, Waypoint’s director of homeless and housing services. “We’re looking to the community for resources we need, but we’re really up against finding the funding when it comes to housing, so that we can provide safe spaces without annihilating our budgets for the year.”

Peterman said she expects housing and funding will continue to be challenges for nonprofits and community and advocacy organizations.

But, she said, domestic violence advocates navigate crisis situations almost daily and she believes they can navigate this one, too.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four women and one in 10 men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner.

In Iowa, at least 6,431 people — more than three-fourths of them women — were victims of domestic violence in 2017, crime reports show. And many victims don’t report assaults, domestic violence advocates say.

As for those facing the threat of domestic violence, Medea-Peters urges them to reach out to advocacy groups, create safety plans and make arrangements with people they trust, should they need help staying safe.

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“One of the things that I like to think about is that survivors know what safety looks like for them,” Pingel said. “Trust your instincts. You know what is best for you. This is going to be hard. This is going to be scary.

“Services and resources are still available 24/7 — and our programs are going to be here for you in any capacity that we can.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

To Get Help

• National Domestic Violence Hotline — 1-(800) 799-7233

• Iowa Victim Service Center — 1-(800) 770-1650; or text “IOWAHELP” to 20121

• Domestic Violence Intervention Program, Iowa City — 1-(800) 373-1043

• Waypoint, Cedar Rapids — (319) 363-2093 or 1-(800)-208-0388

How You Can Help

• Donate to shelters — Towels, twin sheets, washcloths, diapers and pullups (especially sizes 4 to 6), toiletries (body wash, soap, shampoo, conditioner), underwear, socks; and kitchen items, including cooking oil, dish soap, sugar, coffee.

• Give money — Monetary donations or gift cards to Hy-Vee and Walmart

• Give food — Fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk

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Support our coverage

Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.