Domestic violence shelters see an uptick in calls, worry about dwindling funding

This story originally appeared on WESA.


Domestic violence shelters in western Pennsylvania say they’re seeing an increase in hotline calls, amid worries that a difficult and isolating winter is on the way.

“As [state officials] have been talking about more restrictions, there seems to be a pretty dramatic increase over the last three or four weeks of requests for services,” said Michelle Gibb of the Alle-Kiski Area Hope Center, a domestic violence shelter that helps survivors in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. “It almost feels a little anticipatory. Like,  ‘Oh my gosh, [officials] did this in the spring, they’re talking about additional closures, I have to get what I can get — whether it is leaving supportive services, a safety plan — before the restrictions dramatically increase.’”

Gibb said most of the time, calls to their hotline are for immediate needs — like finding shelter or legal assistance in filing a protection from abuse order. But over the last month or so, there’s been at least a 10 percent increase in calls requesting safety planning services,  in case something happens and a survivor needs a way out.

Safety plans help people prepare to protect themselves in or escape from abusive situations. They can include telling trusted friends about what’s happening, or making sure kids know what to do when abuse occurs.

“We’ve had a lot more” requests for help with making such plans, Gibb said. “I think isolation is making safety planning more important to survivors.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, shelters in western Pennsylvania saw a drop in calls to domestic violence hotlines. During an early stay-at-home order, it was hard for people to find enough privacy from abusers to seek out help. Once the stay-at-home order was lifted, calls went up again.

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