The Coast News Group
domestic violence
Local law enforcement agencies and entities like the Community Resource Center are adapting in tandem to help victims in these situations. Courtesy photo

Local nonprofit reports surge in domestic violence calls

REGION – The state’s shelter in place order aims to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, subduing the virus’s spread in order to avoid overwhelming hospitals. But the action has had its fair share of unintended consequences, such as leaving domestic violence victims in isolation with their abusers.

A nonprofit based in Encinitas, the Community Resource Center (CRC) hosts a 24/7 emergency call line for victims of domestic violence in North County, allowing them to connect to potential counseling services or housing options.

According to the center’s CEO, John Van Cleef, such calls have been on the rise in recent weeks.

“Abusers and those who experience abuse are more socially isolated,” Van Cleef told The Coast News. “Their experience in the home is compounded by additional stressors, and I would typically say most abusers don’t have really good coping strategies to deal with stress, so they resort to abuse.”

He called it the “most imperfect mix of circumstances” — in which those who are already isolated are even further distanced from relief due to being stuck at home.

At an April 1 city council meeting in Encinitas, Van Cleef said the center has been anticipating this uptick – as have other entities in the county and beyond. In late March, the San Diego County District Attorney’s office released a statement to address this reality, and connect victims to resources.

“We acknowledge the necessity of Governor Newsom’s order, but want to be sure we provide a lifeline to those who may be at increased risk of violence at the hands of an intimate partner,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan.

“Additional stressors such as losing a job and kids at home due to school closures can be triggers for domestic violence. We want people who are seeing warning signs of abuse or who are being abused to know that we stand ready to help them and that they shouldn’t suffer in silence.”

Local law enforcement agencies and entities like the Community Resource Center are adapting in tandem to help victims in these situations. Van Cleef said the nature of the center’s work hasn’t necessarily changed, but they have had to acclimate to a higher volume of cases and a new set of needs.

“The demand for services is increasing,” he said. “We’re looking at the bandwidth of staff and support we provide and making sure we’re being nimble and quick in responding to the services people ask for.”

The center focuses on both helping domestic violence victims and the homeless population in North County – although Van Cleef points out that there is a key overlap in these populations. Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness, he said, and 24% of homeless individuals are on the streets due to domestic violence-related reasons.

Van Cleef said the crisis is both exacerbating and drawing attention to the issues both of these populations face, particularly in terms of housing.

“The COVID-19 crisis certainly highlights the vulnerability of our unsheltered homeless populations that existed before this started, and it certainly highlights their vulnerability now, and the need for emergency sheltering and long-term permanent housing solutions,” he said. “Because at the end of the shelter in place order, we still have the same shortage of shelter beds and affordable housing that we had before.”

The center has an emergency shelter that serves as a safe home for victims, called Carol’s House, but that shelter is currently full. The organization is now working to arrange hotel vouchers for victims in need, as well as homeless individuals.

Van Cleef said the algorithm for that process has changed during the past month. The organization typically provides hotel vouchers for finite periods of time – for example, to house victims in the time period between signing a lease for a new permanent housing situation and a move-in date.

Now, these hotel vouchers are taking on new meaning – as cities rush to house homeless populations to help stymy the spread of COVID-19. The center has been working with the city of Encinitas to distribute more vouchers for this exact purpose – the city is pitching in $90,000 every two weeks to fund this effort.

“From that, we are then going to begin case management about working with them on their housing readiness, and ability to move into permanent housing,” said Van Cleef.

The center’s hotline continues to be a tool to assess and “triage” victims – some of the calls are referred to local law enforcement, or individuals are linked to case managers for rapid rehousing. The organization also provides counseling and therapy services, which are now offered through the web.

“Making sure that we’re adapting our delivery of service to a tele-environment is part of how we’re responding along the way too,” Van Cleef said.

Beyond their contact with victims, the center is adapting their prevention education programs – aimed to “help relationship violence stop before it even starts.”

These programs are specifically geared toward youth, and as such, the center has been working with local schools to make sure these programs are available online.

Starting on May 1, they’ll be offering a training program with domestic violence prevention educators.

“We’re also going to be modifying that curriculum with an online web link, so we can help create awareness about the reality of domestic violence in this climate, as well as tuning people into how they can be aware of and appropriately respond to concerns they have around domestic violence that they might be suspecting (among) their neighbors or friends,” said Van Cleef.

At the Encinitas City Council meeting, Van Cleef urged residents to be attentive and aware of the domestic violence-related struggles their neighbors might be facing during this time.

If you are looking to get in touch with the Community Resource Center’s toll-free 24-hour domestic violence crisis hotline, call: 1-877-633-1112.

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