Domestic abuse shelter sees greater need

Coronavirus pandemic has increased need at Hope Unlimited's domestic violence shelter. At the same time, the pandemic has reduced capacity and imposed social distancing restrictions at the shelter.

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September 3, 2020 - 10:12 AM

The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the need for a new domestic violence shelter, Hope Unlimited’s director said. 

Dorothy Sparks, the agency’s executive director, said Hope Unlimited recently received several grants, both for continued operations and also to help the shelter adapt to new coronavirus regulations.

“It’s been very hard the past several months, especially in rearranging the shelter,” Sparks said. “This has really opened our eyes to the fact that we need a new shelter in order for folks to have social distancing and have their own private room.”

The shelter has reduced its capacity to around 10 residents, down from an average of 15 to 18. The facility no longer is allowed to use bunk beds. Residents are supposed to practice social distancing measures and wear masks in communal areas. Meals must be spaced out, both in terms of time and distance.

“We’ve been full several times since July,” Sparks said. “Our house is small enough that we have to eat in shifts and spread people around.”

Frequent cleaning is required. The agency hired a company to provide deep cleaning with electrostatic disinfectant machines on a regular basis.

A federal grant of $7,000 allowed the agency to purchase disinfectant supplies, personal protection equipment and other items for the domestic violence shelter. Some of the supplies, such as Lysol and Clorox wipes, have been in short supply because of increased demand across the country, Sparks said.

The agency will continue to pursue grants and other types of fundraising opportunities, Sparks said. Many grants are actually paid as reimbursements, which means the agency must raise money to have on hand. Fundraisers are essential, she said.

“We’re just kind of waiting to see what happens with COVID money, but we believe there are funding opportunities for shelters and we will look for those,” she said.

“We will definitely be fundraising but it’s going to look different. All of our fundraising in the past has been done in person.”

THE NUMBER of people seeking services for domestic violence declined during the first couple of months of the pandemic but has increased significantly since July, Sparks said.

She attributes that to the lockdowns put in place in March and April. The lockdowns limited opportunities for victims and abusers to leave the house and potentially increased stressful relationships, leading to an increase in abusive situations, she said.

As restrictions eased, those in abusive relationships likely took advantage of opportunities to leave their abuser, she said.

“What we believe, based on our calls, no one could leave. And when you’re in a home with an abuser, things tend to escalate to the point where they had to get out,” she said.

The shelter also has seen an increase in the number of families with children. Currently, all school-aged children staying at the shelter are attending classes at their respective school buildings.

Last spring, when classes were canceled, it was difficult for children to attend online classes. Sparks said Hope Unlimited staff are searching for grant opportunities that will allow for improved internet services, for families that want to attend school remotely or if the pandemic requires another lockdown.

The shelter does not set a time limit because it takes time to secure housing, which is limited in Iola. The average length of stay is between 60 to 90 days.

“It takes that long to get housing, and especially with COVID, it’s taking longer,” Sparks said.

IN ADDITION to the grant opportunities offered in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Hope Unlimited also received $98,000 in state grants, announced last week by the office of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

Those are recurring grants that allow Hope Unlimited to continue its operations and programs, Sparks said. They are reimbursement grants, which means the agency must raise money in other ways to pay for its programs and employees, and keep careful records to ensure reimbursement.

“That’s why fundraising is so important,” Sparks said. 

The grants include:

$36,823 for the child visitation center, which provides supervised visits and monitored exchanges in a safe, secure and neutral environment. The grant helps pay for salaries and supplies.

$55,695 for 24-hour victim services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking. The grant provides for general operations including salaries.

$5,400 for the children’s advocacy center. The state grant provides for equipment and supplies, such as cameras. A separate grant pays for salaries.

“We’ve been fortunate to get these grants every year since about 2010,” Sparks said. “That’s how we keep these programs going.”

For more information on how to donate to Hope Unlimited, call the office at 620-365-7566 or stop by the office at 406 N. Buckeye St. You can also go to the website at www.hope-unlimited.org and click on the “Giving” tab.

“Everything helps,” Sparks said.

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