When a survivor of domestic violence decides to leave, fear is a natural response. But imagine deciding to leave an abusive environment in the midst of a pandemic. Now the fears are amplified and multiplied: be hurt by the hands of an abuser or risk getting sick (or dying) from the coronavirus.
This is a reality for survivors, says Shyriell Owens, who manages the Relocation and Safety program at the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. Because many people are not leaving home as often, the danger is more pronounced.
"People are in crisis with everyone at home," explains Owens. "Children are [at home]; the abuser is there. It creates more of a situation where the survivor has to get out in a hurry."
In March, the OHFA Board approved the creation of a $250,000 Emergency Investment Fund. Organizations with statewide reach and missions related to housing could apply for up to $50,000 from the fund.
ODVN applied for and received $50,000. The monies were immediately used for the relocation program, which re-houses domestic violence survivors and their children. The fund often provides the first month's rent and/or deposit or outstanding utility bills.
Although the organization receives some private funding and monies from the Victims of Crime Act through the Ohio Attorney General's office each October, the relocation program dollars stretch thin by the late summer. The money from OHFA extended that stretch.
"That $50,000 helps us tremendously to make this last one more month," says Mary O'Doherty, ODVN's Executive Director.
Domestic violence advocates are seeing spikes in calls, requests for help, and unfortunately deaths. From July 1, 2019 to June 30, ODVN recorded its second highest number of deaths in Ohio: 109.
ODVN member programs apply for funding on behalf of families, and the pandemic has put pressure on them to move families out of shelters more quickly to reduce the possibility of infection from close quarters.
The state's health crisis has put a microscope on a known problem. And with no end in sight, Owens says she worries about the families who desperately need to escape dangerous environments.
"These families are always on my heart."