What a long year this has been since March 21 when Governor Pritzker issued his “Shelter in place” order. At least it feels like a year, although it really has only been a month. ICADV staff has gone into overtime working to sort out all the information coming from a myriad of resources to pass along to our member programs in some orderly fashion so that it can be useful. Whew.

Domestic violence (DV) services were named essential immediately. It was recognized by the Governor and the state departments that support of these services are critical to make sure anyone experiencing domestic violence could continue to seek assistance as they deemed necessary.

Of course with the COVID-19 protection guidelines that include social distancing, protective equipment and extra cleaning, the local DV agencies have had to make some adjustments in order to be safely available for those seeking assistance and for staff. Most DV agencies that provide shelter in the same building as other services often utilize dorm type bedrooms and industrial outfitted kitchens, all designed for communal living. This means that sometimes multiple families have to share sleeping space and regularly share meal preparation and eating. This is not feasible during this health crisis. Shelters reorganized so that only single families or single adults would be in a bedroom. This of course reduces available beds for people escaping domestic violence and consequently led many of these DV agencies to utilize hotel rooms in order to keep being available for emergency shelter.

Confidentiality is a guiding principle for DV agencies so working out a code in advance with the local hotels was important in order to get someone into emergency shelter quickly and to continue to protect the identity of those requesting shelter. Based on feedback from advocates across the state, this is working out pretty well.

However, unexpected expenses have arisen out of this flexible but necessary means of continuing to be available. In some instances, additional staff are needed because not only are the advocates now working with those in shelter, they are also working with those being sheltered in hotels.

The other issue that programs have had to adapt to and have had to put out resources not figured into their budgets for was adjustments to working with survivors through technology. Counseling and advocacy beyond the hotlines in DV programs are almost exclusively in person. Again, due to COVID-19 almost all work is now via phone calls, texts and emails. This kind of contact with survivors is very delicate because abusers often use technology to track all actions of their partners. This means it is very likely that there are people who are being abused and have not been able to seek help. Whenever possible, please call 877-863-6338. Someone will answer and help. I would also strongly encourage anyone who has used harmful behavior with a partner or family member to call that number as well. If you want to stop using abusive behaviors and this health crisis is bringing that to the surface, you can get help as well.

I would like to finish my thoughts today with a gigantic thank you. I have seen such creative and resourceful responses by advocates throughout this period. They are anxious about staying well but continue to show up every day to help those experiencing domestic violence. The administrators of the DV agencies have put in long, thoughtful hours making sure resources are available to make these adaptations and support staff. And the public has been very generous in realizing that DV agencies and ICADV need additional funds at this time.  A special thank you to the Illinois Foundations that came together so quickly and raised dollars that have helped our member agencies provide emergency assistance early and quickly. It is so heartening to see that our communities recognize the need of families that are experiencing domestic violence during this public health crisis. Thank you all. Stay safe and stay well.