Calls For Help 'Are Through The Roof.' DFW Women's Shelters Struggle During Pandemic
Calls and requests for lifesaving shelter are through the roof at one women’s shelter in North Texas. Others are out of space. Most are out of cleaning supplies. And all of them need food and money now. At two local shelters, workers are worried the coronavirus outbreak could lead to even more domestic violence.
Victoria Gama is a bilingual hotline operator at Genesis Women’s Shelter in Dallas. It's her job to talk with people who are in the middle of a crisis. And using the resouces she has at her fingertips, Gama helps them escape violent situations.
"I get lots of calls from people who are trying to find shelter or counseling," she said. "But not all of the calls are from women who need help. Some are from people trying to help someone else get out of a domestic violence situation."
Genesis' hotlines are open 24/7. Gama answers those phone lines eight hours a day, 40 hours a week. Often times, she's the first person a victim of domestic violence speaks with at Genesis. That means she has to be courteous, patient and well-informed to do her job.
"The hotline is really the frontline or the hub for our entire agency," Genesis' director of residential services Jordyn Lawson said. "I mean, they're taking crisis calls, asking questions, answering questions and in that they're doing eligibilty screenings to see if we can bring clients into Genesis for assistance."
But Lawson said Gama and the other operator's jobs have gotten a lot more difficult during the pandemic.
"So, right now, our shelter is full," she said. "That means we're not taking people in because we don't have any beds available. And the hotline operators have to share that message. They also need to stay informed about what resources are still availble outside of Genesis, because everyone's hours have changed and some of them have closed their offices."
On top of all that, Lawson said the hotline operators hold down the residential fort.
"They ensure safety by monitoring our cameras," she said. "They’re supporting our clients who live on site. They’re giving them over-the-counter medication or new clothes or new sheets, or laundry detergent to wash their clothes and sheets."
But the hotline operators aren’t the only ones stepping up. Due to safety concerns, Genesis has far fewer staffers working in the shelter. Same for their volunteers. That means folks are taking on new roles at the residences.
New Roles And New Perspectives
Genesis provides three meals a day for all 125 of their shelter clients. And in the past, they had a kitchen staff made up of employees and volunteers. But due to concerns about the kitchen staff's age and immune systems, the shelter had to send them home. And now, others within the organization have had to put on aprons.
"I would say the biggest change in my day-to-day is working with people who I'm normally not paired up with," educator Sawyer Thompson said. "But I would say that's a good thing, because we all feel really good knowing that we're helping people who might be struggling if we weren't here."
Thompson said the hardest part about transitioning to the kitchen has been cooking in such large quantities.
"We have limited supply, so we've really had to dive into the pantry and try to think of meals we'd make if we were home and needed something quick, healthy and cheap," she said.
Jan Langbein is the CEO at Genesis. She’s been running the nonprofit for more than 30 years. Langbein said volunteers used to bring meals into the shelter before the pandemic. But that can't happen anymore.
"So without those donations, our costs for food are going up," she explained. "If we want to buy loaves of bread - if we can even find loaves of bread - it's times 40 for every single meal."
Children's activity coordinator Kaylin Jewell is also new to the kitchen staff. She agreed with Thompson that cooking can be tough. But she said it's even tougher keeping things clean.
“There aren’t Clorox wipes. There isn’t Lysol spray. And so right now, we’re relying on bleach," she said. "You know, we’re bleaching anything and everything we can just to provide that care for our clients.”
Langbein said food and cleaning products aren't the only hard-to-find supplies at the shelter. And she’s worried about how much longer they’ll last.
“We need the community. We need financial donations. We need in-kind donations of cleaning supplies and paper goods. We need crafts and snacks for our kids,” she said.
View this post on Instagram Even if you're stuck at home, there are ways you can continue to help vulnerable populations! If you or your organization are interested in providing a lunch or dinner donation that can feed 40 Genesis clients, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Some restaurants, such as Jason's Deli, have graciously arranged for nonprofit discounts and free delivery during this time. A post shared by Genesis Women's Shelter (@genesiswomensshelter) on Mar 17, 2020 at 3:17pm PDT
More Shelters Worry About Running Out Of Food, Money and Space
Genesis isn’t the only North Texas women’s shelter on the edge. SafeHaven is Tarrant County's domestic violence service provider, with 164 women and children in Fort Worth and Arlington shelters.
SafeHaven's leader Kathryn Jacob said, like Genesis, all the beds are taken and the organization is running out of money too.
“We’re buying more cleaning supplies and stuff like that than we have ever before," she said. "And in a normal circumstance we would just put out a message and normally people buy that stuff for us via our Amazon Wish List or they drop it off at one of our drop-off locations. Well, there’s no staff at any of those locations right now. We’re all kind of hunkering down.”
Jacob said like hospitals, medical clinics and other emergency service providers, women's shelters like SafeHaven have a duty to stay open during turbulent times. But doing so causes financial stress because they're unable to count on their volunteers.
"We're a little different than Genesis," Jacob said. "They probably have more volunteers than we do, because they don't accept government funding. We do. So that means we need more of our staff in the shelters right now. And they understand that we're the only domestic violence victim services provider in Tarrant County."
We'll Be Needed Now More Than Ever
Over the past week, both shelters have seen a steady stream of calls from women in need. SafeHaven is even reporting an uptick from last year’s figures.
Despite the financial worries and a lack of vacancies, both Genesis and SafeHaven plan to continue serving battered women in need of help. And the leaders of both shelters are worried that their services are going to be needed now more than ever before.
"Unfortunately, for women who are living in abuse, their abusers are probably at home as well," Langbein said. "We know that makes it harder for an abused survivor to get out. We also know that increases the possibility of violence happening."
Jacob agreed. She said social distancing and quarantine are sure to raise tensions that can lead to domestic violence. Jacob said she's really worried about the women who are sure to struggle in the coming days, weeks or even months.
"I was at the Fort Worth shelter earlier today and I saw a lot of people who had pretty serious issues, "she said. "And I'm not talking about the pandemic. I'm talking about the violence that was brought upon them by their intimate partner. And it made me think about their greatest fears...the pandemic in their lives is their partner. It's not coronavirus."
Jacob said this whole experience feels very open-ended. Langbein compared it to playing a game of whack-a-mole. Both said there's been a pandemic injuring women and children in this country for years and years.
It's called domestic violence.