SCHENECTADY — COVID-19-induced economic and social stresses have spurred a worldwide surge in domestic violence, yet calls for help have slowed at YWCA NorthEastern NY’s emergency domestic violence shelter.
“It’s a little quieter at this time, and it’s really unnatural for domestic violence services to be like that,” said shelter coordinator Demekia Santana. “We are receiving phone calls, but just not the high influx like we used to.”
The Schenectady-based shelter offers 20 beds to female domestic violence victims and their children. Five of those beds are presently unoccupied.
In addition to housing, the shelter offers meals; advocacy services; and economic, mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence counseling. There is a case manager who coordinates activities for children as well.
“We basically provide a safe place to be, in as confidential of a location as we possibly can,” Santana explained.
Santana said she thinks women are hesitant to come to the shelter right now due to fears about COVID-19.
“They might not be sure if they will be safe in the shelter, as far as the virus goes, because it’s communal living,” she said.
To date, there have been no COVID-19 cases there, and staff are taking extra precautions to help ensure it stays that way. Communal dining is no longer offered; residents eat meals in their room to help diminish the risk of potential exposure to the coronavirus.
“We are taking the utmost precaution. We are constantly sanitizing and wiping stuff down, and the individuals that are in the shelter are also taking those same types of precautions,” Santana said.
Domestic violence victims’ challenges have increased due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the United Nations, reports from countries worldwide suggest that restrictions in movement, and social isolation, coupled with elevated social and economic pressures, are leading to increased violence in the home.
Many local women have lost their job or are working from home due to the virus, so a workplace can no longer serve as a temporary escape.
“With children also involved, it makes for a really bad dynamic, with no one being able to move about,” Santana noted.
Outdoor exercise is still permitted, so Santana recommends taking regular walks to get fresh air and a respite. Outings can also offer an opportunity to seek help.
“If there’s a time they have to go to the grocery and they are alone for a moment and they need to talk, it’s the perfect opportunity to reach out for assistance,” she said.
Santana stressed that those in an unsafe home situation should take action, despite fears about COVID-19.
“If you are in a dangerous situation, it is necessary to leave that situation, and if you are having trouble, just reach out and we can [make a] safety plan; we can provide some details of what can be done. It’s OK to seek shelter at this time. It is no different than it was before, even though we do have a virus at hand,” she stressed.
Reach freelance writer Kelly de la Rocha at [email protected].
YWCA NorthEastern NY’s counseling and advocacy services are presently offered by phone.
The facility’s main number: 518-374-3394, is staffed around the clock,
24/7 domestic violence hotline: 518-374-3386.
Advocacy and counseling information: 518-429-6849.
Housing information: 518-598-5228.
Additional information is available on the YWCA’s website: www.ywca-neny.org.