Calls to Ore. domestic violence crisis lines spike amid COVID-19 pandemic
Organizations are reporting about twice their usual volume of calls and requests for emergency shelters
PORTLAND — Organizations that serve domestic violence survivors say they have seen a spike in calls to crisis hotlines and an increased demand for emergency shelter in the past week as the new coronavirus has spread in Oregon.
The public health crisis means more people are confined to their homes. It has resulted in rapid, devastating and widespread economic consequences as businesses shutter and lay off workers. Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus continues to rise nationwide.
That’s a combustible equation that can deepen already unstable or violent situations, say people who work at organizations that provide support and resources for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the Portland area.
Melissa Erlbaum, executive director of Clackamas Women’s Services, said domestic violence “lives in isolation.”
“When there is additional isolation,” she said, “that exacerbates the situation.”
Erlbaum said her organization this week has heard from survivors who are worried about how they’ll obtain or extend restraining orders with reduced court access and whether police will respond to domestic violence reports. Police agencies in the region have said they will continue to respond to those calls.
Others fear the public health crisis will complicate their plans to leave an abusive situation, Erlbaum said.
She said people who experience abuse are now confined at home with the perpetrator, unable to get to counseling and resources that allow them to cope.
“Now they are unable to do that in any way that’s confidential or safe,” she said.
Last Friday, Call to Safety, which serves Portland, received more than 100 calls for help -- about twice its usual volume, said Fay Schuler, executive director of Call to Safety. That level has remained consistent in the days since, she said.
The organization also drained 20 percent of its budget for emergency motel vouchers in less than a week, she said.
The vouchers provide up to seven days of emergency shelter for people fleeing domestic violence. Schuler said people typically would then transition into the larger shelter system or find an apartment.
Under the coronavirus epidemic, however, it is difficult for people to come up with safe housing once their hotel voucher runs out.
“We don’t really see an end to this,” she said. “We don’t know what the plan will be for that survivor after that seven days.”
She said her program offers financial help for bus or train tickets for people who have a safe place to go out of state “but there is a lot less travel that’s happening, so folks are staying in place.”
“That’s escalating the fear for survivors,” she said.
Schuler encouraged people experiencing domestic violence to reach out to a crisis hotline.
“I don’t want survivors to be in their homes thinking there is no option for them,” she said.