COLUMBUS (WCMH) — COVID-19 has impacted households all over the world, particularly for those who may not even be safe in their own homes. But with domestic violence increasing during the pandemic, funding has decreased when shelters need funds the most.
“Here’s one of those lounges I talked about. Just a little place,” Susan Villilo points out, as she pauses at the sight of a mattress standing against the wall. “Somebody might have slept in there; we might be that full.”
At the Lutheran Social Services CHOICES domestic violence shelter, they’ve been that full all year. Right now, they even have a waiting list for families and individuals in need of shelter.
“We’ve been overcapacity in the shelter since December of 2020,” said Villilo, who is assistant vice president of Community-Based Services for Lutheran Social Services.
With 138 people currently housed, CHOICES has quickly outgrown their 120-bed capacity. Forcing the shelter to expedite their plans to expand the facility.
“We thought when we built the building that was somewhere down the road; 3, 5, 10 years, maybe. We did not expect that we were going to have to do it less than 2 years into the building,” Villilo said.
For Villilo, the expansion couldn’t have come soon enough. She said CHOICES has seen a 16% increase in high-danger calls during the pandemic — many of them from the police.
“It’s not saying, ‘We have somebody who needs a place to stay,’ it’s saying, ‘I’m with someone who is going to be killed or seriously harmed if we don’t get them out of here,'” Villilo said.
But funding has become an increasing challenge for shelters like CHOICES, after the previous administration in Washington cut more than $400K dollars in funding over the past two years.
“Dollars for Violence Against Women Act has been at the top of our priority, and certainly at the top of my priority since I’ve been in Congress, and even before,” Ohio Congresswoman Joyce Beatty said.
The latest budget from Ohio lawmakers will certainly help bridge that gap. $5 million has been earmarked for domestic violence shelters this year, and another $2.5 million the following year. The federal government has also promised new funds to take effect next year.
“It was important for us to provide those dollars so women would have access to shelter, they would have access to counseling, and avenues to help maintain their livelihood’s, their jobs,” Beatty said.
Despite cuts, CHOICES has managed to maintain all the services offered to families and their children over the past year.
“Medical and dental services, we have case management services, we have counseling, all right here in the building. We have a legal advocate that can help with the legal system,” Villilo said. “We do just a ton of recreational and social activities, we have lots of groups.”
Lending the safety of a helping hand, until victims can get back on their feet.
“We don’t see an end in sight,” Villilo said. “We think this is sort of a lagging indicator with both COVID and the economy, and we believe we’re going to continue to be at these very high numbers or people seeking services for quite some time to come.”
For those needing shelter, CHOICES has a 24-hour crisis hotline managed by trained advocates at (614)224-4663