Domestic violence victim (copy)

A domestic violence victim stands at a window at the WomenShelter Resource Center.

Stay at Home orders and social distancing requirements have dealt efforts to help victims of domestic violence a double blow.

Requiring people who aren't family members to stay six feet apart and not congregate has meant fewer people can stay at emergency shelters and supported housing facilities. Communal dining and crowded conditions are common in shelters, which typically run close to full, operators say. 

"Our shelters have had to reduce population to comply with social distancing," said Dean Lockwood, director of development at Su Casa, a domestic violence agency serving Long Beach and Los Angeles County. "Project Safe Haven has reached out to hotels and motels. We're just starting the process, but it will provide safe housing for victims of domestic violence in need of a place to stay."

Project Safe Haven came out of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's office, and is partially financed through the Mayor's Fund. Singer Rihanna and Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey helped with the financing, according to a press release. 

Operators at two other Long Beach agencies, WomenShelter of Long Beach and Interval House, said they are involved, but not as directly as Su Casa.

"We are involved with collaborating," Thyda Duong, Interval House director of program development, said. "If we're not able to handle housing someone, we have an operational safety net with the hotel program. We work with multiple hotels in Long Beach and in Orange County."

WomenShelter of Long Beach also collaborates, and has used hotel rooms to quarantine victims exposed to the coronavirus, executive director Mary Ellen Mitchell said. But WomenShelter opened a new housing facility — Cherese’s Safe Home, named after Cherese Mari Laulhere — earlier this year. Its seven bedrooms all have its own bathroom and ventilation system, so families can isolate there.

"There are places in the common areas where they can sit separately — basically, we used a lot of tape (to mark areas off)," Mitchell said. "They can cook and eat in shifts. Our staff wears masks and gloves, and there's hand sanitizer everywhere."

While finding safe housing is important, all three agency officials said the Stay at Home orders have more dire consequences.

A house where an abuser has to stay home, and the rest of the family has to stay there too, is a problem. The victim can't easily get away from the abuser, who likely is more frustrated than usual, worrying about financial issues or missing normal pastimes. 

"There is increasing danger for victims of domestic violence," Duong said. "There is increased economic instability… We also have a large rental assistance program and we're seeing it there, too."

"When there's a downturn in reporting, that has us worried," Mitchell added. "We're seeing primarily the criminal calls now. When things lift a little, we expect a lot more.

"The real thing we need it to get the word out that we are here, and we're open," she said. "Our resource center is open and operating. We are in contact with 320 clients at least once a week, if not more."

Each agency has a help hotline. Su Casa's number is 562-402-4888; WomenShelter's hotline is 562-437-4633; and Interval House as two — 562-594-4555 and 714-891-8121. All three have websites listing resources and services, as well.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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