The dilemma created by COVID-19 for women experiencing domestic violence is unimaginable: remain at home with an abuser and suffer harmful treatment or flee to a crowded shelter and risk exposure to the corona virus. This dangerous dilemma was confounded by the isolation imposed by COVID which increased the rates of domestic violence while seeking help plummeted. Safe Berks, a United Way agency partner, recognized this unattainable situation and immediately took action.
Stocked with cleaning supplies and PPE from United Way, Safe Berks ramped up their community outreach by spreading the word their facilities were safe, clean, and fully operational. This outreach ignited in increased calls to the Safe Berks legal department; a 700% increase last year. CEO Beth Garrigan says, “the COVID relief funding from United Way was critical to our ability to keep doing business throughout the pandemic.” She recalls how shelter staff was able to keep residents fed even when food became scarce, and the price of pantry staples skyrocketed.
Although social distancing has kept shelter residents physically apart, the pandemic has brought them closer together. This is the tight-knit community Safe Berks fosters and United Way supports: one filled with remarkable human beings who have now survived two monumental ordeals together. Residents look out for one another’s safety by enforcing COVID protocols; volunteers, often survivors themselves, continue to offer their steadfast support. One such dedicated volunteer, Mary*, is a past resident herself. When she left her abusive partner with nothing but the clothes on her back, she was homeless for a time before landing at Safe Berks. Its programs got her back on her feet, and she now serves as a pillar of hope to those building their own new lives free from domestic abuse.
*name changed to protect privacy