The COVID-19 pandemic cut a wide swath in available funds for nonprofit organizations providing care to people in domestic violence crisis along with people dealing with mental health issues or recovering from addictions.
“Saying the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on our organization may be an understatement,” said Donna Graybill, executive director of Voices Against Violence. The nonprofit provides services and resources to people in domestic violence situations.
The pandemic forced organizations to find new ways to operate and provide services — and hobbled them financially by limiting their ability to hold crucial fundraisers. In one case, a grant writer was let go, further impeding the group’s ability to access available funding.
Maintaining a safe harbor
Voices Against Violence, founded in 1981, provides emergency housing, counseling, transportation, food and anything a person needs to survive and be safe in the midst of domestic violence.
Eighty percent of its $1 million is funded through grants; the remaining 20 is earned through the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts.
So far, the group has canceled a half-dozen fundraisers — and there’s no end in sight.
During October, Voices Against Violence is hosting an online giving campaign called “Month of Giving” on its website.
“We normally throw a big party and have a lot of fun. But this year, we are asking people to dig deep and give so we can continue to provide this important role we play in our community,” Graybill said.
The group plans to develop documentary video clips with four clients to continue to show the reality of domestic violence.
“We hope to engage people emotionally and show that these are real people,” she said.
The organization, which has a safe house, was forced to shift to a safer method of housing clients escaping from dangerous environments.
The group is now spending $10,000 a month in additional funds to provide the individual housing for clients, which keeps them from being at risk for contracting the virus in a group setting — and so they don’t pose a risk to others.
“We’ve had to move some things around and find new funding in order to be able to continue that,” Graybill said.
Pandemic intensifies domestic violence
Graybill said they realized pretty quickly in March that they would have to transfer clients to individual housing because people in abuse situations often feel a lack of power and control over their lives. Keeping them in a potentially unsafe group situation would exacerbate those feelings.
“It was a real problem with COVID,” she said. “People’s choices would affect others and being put into that situation is not a good way to heal.”
The increased housing costs for the nonprofit comes on top of losing $200,000 gleaned through annual fundraisers that have been canceled during the pandemic.
One problem encountered is that many of the grants require that the organization front the costs before they are reimbursed, which has been more difficult to do with fewer donations from fundraisers.
Although the money is tighter, the needs are greater than ever.
The pandemic has “intensified” the effects of domestic violence, she said.
“I believe that it has made it worse.”
During a domestic violence situation, she said, one person controls the other partner and the virus has provided an abuser with one more tool to use for control and another excuse why their partner can go anywhere or talk with anyone.
“Families in domestic violence are already under stress and this is making the isolation used in domestic violence worse,” Graybill said.
Families with volatile relationships are spending more time confined at home and children have been out of school and home more.
Voices Against Violence received 333 crisis calls in August, up 50% percent from July.
Graybill said there’s a silver lining in the pandemic. It has forced the group to implement more online support groups, which have been well received.
“Transportation has always been a barrier for people to attend these sessions,” Graybill said.
Now the groups are being attended by people from Gooding to Albion.
“Some groups are having record attendance,” she said.
Since they implemented individual housing, Voices Against Violence has started cooking hot meals for the clients and delivering them every day. In the past, the organization would simply give out a box of food.
“I didn’t feel good about sending them microwavable food for months,” Graybill said. Voices Against Violence will continue the new model of operation that’s been implemented at least until next summer.
Mini-Cassia domestic violence calls spike
Robin Bronson, executive director of Crossroads Harbor Domestic Violence Shelter in Mini-Cassia, said her group experienced the same dilemma that Voices Against Violence experienced with decreased donations and not having the cash in their bank account to make use of the grant money.
The shelter’s call volume has increased by 50% during the pandemic.
“I think it’s related to stress in the households,” Bronson said.
And call volume is not showing signs of decreasing anytime soon.
“We are at maximum capacity for what we can handle,” she said.
The nonprofit organization usually holds one fundraiser a month and held its first since February in September.
The money from fundraisers is down more than $15,000 with the tally climbing.
“There have been times where I personally had to wait for my paycheck,” Bronson said.
At times, they couldn’t purchase items — such as gas cards — they would normally supply.
“The donations for food and clothing are starting to come in now,” she said, but there were times when donations weren’t coming in at all.
Because they can’t house more than one family at a time at the safe house, they are also putting people in individual housing.
“It increased our spending about $1,500 a month,” Bronson said.
Some extra grant money is available for nonprofits who are struggling during the pandemic and the grants are fairly easy to write.
“We are getting some grants in and soon expect to have a steady flow of funding again,” she said.
The shelter is always in need of monetary donations along with diapers and laundry soap.
Keeping recovery doors open
John Brannan, director of Recovery in Motion in Twin Falls, said the nonprofit has slashed staff and is struggling to keep the doors open in the midst of the pandemic.
Six locations of Recovery in Motion were established by the Idaho Legislature about three years ago, which provides free, peer-based support services for people with mental-health or substance-abuse issues and helps them reintegrate into the community.
The organization’s goal is to remove the barriers to recovery.
The organization is “very dependent on fundraisers,” which are heavily hampered by the virus.
During its recent Change for Change fundraiser, they raised $56, which will be used to purchase art supplies at the center.
“Right now there are a number of grants out there to help nonprofits during the pandemic but all of the nonprofits are competing for the same pot of money,” putting them at a disadvantage without a professional grant writer, Brannan said.
The organization originally received start-up grants and was supposed to develop a sustainable operation afterward, but the pandemic this year has set them back.
It is now operating on a $55,000 a year budget, which is half of its original budget. The lower budget means they had to lay off staff, including a grant writer who is needed to bring in funds.
“It’s keeping our doors open but we are running on a bare minimum,” said Brannan, a retired nurse who cut his own hours in half and is donating his services for 20 hours a week.
“We are all very dedicated here and we are all in recovery so we really have our heart in this and will do anything to be able to keep going,” he said.
The pandemic has tripled the need for recovery coaches, but the use of support groups, which have switched to online platforms, has dwindled by 50% to 1,000 people using the service per month.
“I believe the reason for that is that COVID creates isolation and that is the hallmark of mental health and substance abuse issues,” Brannan said. “Now they are isolating from everyone even more and it is exacerbating the issues and creating high rates of recidivism.”
Idaho fiscal year 2020 liquor sales seem to agree.
The year’s alcohol sales, which ended June 30, hit $258.6 million, according to the Idaho State Liquor Division.
According to a poll of 1,540 Americans published in the JAMA Network Open, drinking rose by 19% among adults ages 30 to 59 and by 17% among women.
Compared with 2019, women today reported a 41% increase in heavy drinking days.
Unlike the domestic violence organizations, Recovery in Motion has not been successful in holding online meetings with mental illness and substance abuse recovery clients, he said.
“For many of them their lives are already frustrating,” Brannon said, and technical issues just compound the stress.
Many clients don’t feel a connection to people during an online meeting, and having to download apps and follow a lot of steps can be daunting for them, he said.
Brannan said the organization also works with probation and parole departments to help people who are released from jail or prison find resources to help them become productive citizens.
Research shows, he said, that they have 72 hours after someone is released from prison to catch up to them and offer help in order to reduce recidivism rates.
Parolees are able to volunteer at the center to work off their community service hours, which helps establish good habits and may prevent them from returning to old lifestyles, he said.
The center gives people a place to receive support and to help others, he said.
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