A prolonged countywide stay-at-home order can prove uniquely challenging to domestic violence victims who are stuck in abusive relationships, as advocates and community service providers have been forced to adapt to public health directives in order to continue to offer services.
Because of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s order for all residents to shelter at home due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the South County emergency domestic violence shelter is no longer able to house new residents, explained Aida Zaldivar, Program Manager for Community Solutions’ domestic violence and housing program. However, Community Solutions, which operates the confidential shelter, has booked rooms at area hotels for domestic violence and sexual assault victims in need of housing during the public health orders.
Zaldivar said last week that Community Solutions had received three requests from victims for emergency housing in the previous eight days—more than usual but too soon to call it a trend. The evening of March 25, while a Community Solutions advocate was responding to an emergency domestic violence call in Morgan Hill, she received a call regarding a similar incident that just happened in Gilroy.
Local police so far have not seen a statistical uptick in such incidents since the March 17 stay-home orders were activated, but advocates fear that some victims are not calling for help.
“What I’m concerned about is that people are staying home with children, and perhaps their significant other, and they may not be reaching out,” Zaldivar said. “Staying in place, being cooped up all day can create some tension. I am afraid that people are not calling.”
In a series of emails pleading for donations to help with expensive, often prolonged hotel stays for victims, Community Solutions CEO Erin O’Brien wrote, “While the shelter-in-place order is there to protect us all from COVID-19, there are women and children in our community whose lives are at greater risk if they stay home. The current precautions are all but creating prisons, trapping women and children at home with their abusers.”
Donations, which can be made online at communitysolutions.org, go directly to pay for a hotel room “to keep a mother and her children safe, away from the violence at home. And it will also protect them from getting or spreading COVID-19,” O’Brien wrote in a March 26 email.
Zaldivar added that these hotel stays are often for a longer period of time than stays at the emergency shelter, because victims are feeling less safe to return home. That feeling is likely due to tensions created by financial loss and other factors related to requirements to stay at home and the inability to work during the pandemic, Zaldivar said.
Community Solutions wants to send the clear message to victims that help is still available. The organization’s 24-hour crisis hotline is still open. The South County Family Justice Center, located at 16264 Church St. in Morgan Hill, is open for walk-ins every Wednesday from 9am to 5pm.
“Clients seeking services can come in and speak to an advocate” and seek other services, Zaldivar said. “We’re still here to support survivors of family violence.”
HELP IS AVAILABLE
Family violence and sexual assault victims in need of immediate assistance can call Community Solutions’ 24-hour hotline at 1-877-363-7238. Victims can also drop in at the Family Justice Center, 16264 Church Street in Morgan Hill, from 9am to 5pm on Wednesdays. Advocates also maintain a confidential online chat application for victims at safechatsv.org. Visit communitysolutions.org for more information about available services.