“Have you ever felt afraid of your partner?” a Hope’s Door New Beginning Center brochure asks.
Domestic violence has always been a concern. Typical abuse cases in Texas range from 1 in 4 women, 1 in 3 teens, and 1 in 7 men. Many end in death by an intimate partner. Yet, with the COVID-19 lockdown in place forcing families and couples to remain indoors, many nonprofits predict an equal rise in domestic violence.
In February, the police station in Jianli County near Wuhan – the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak last December – received three times as many domestic violence reports as usual. “According to our statistics,” says Wan Fei, founder of an anti-domestic violence nonprofit in China, “90% of the causes of violence are related to the COVID-19 epidemic.”
Collin County’s own area domestic violence care center is fully aware of the probable surge of domestic violence. Normally offering free face-to-face counseling, advocacy, and safety planning, Hope’s Door New Beginnings Center has previously welcomed victims for sit-down chats in their Plano and Garland offices to let them know their options.
However, with the new shelter-in-place mandates, the center recognizes that quarantined victims are at greater risk of heightened abuse, and recommends their best strategy for help is to place a discreet phone call to the organization.
“Sheltering in [place] may create many risks for victims,” CEO Christina Coultas says. “We encourage victims to call our crisis line or our Outreach office to speak with an advocate who can safety plan with them.”
But making a phone call while trapped in an abusive environment is easier said than done. The organization offers a couple of safe options for victims, recommending they pick a set time and call from a private place. “Identify a password with friends/family/crisis line that alerts them it is no longer safe to be on the phone,” the center advises. “Use someone else’s phone, email us at email@example.com for safety planning assistance.”
Finding herself at the helm of Hope’s Door New Beginnings Center during the COVID-19 crisis is Christina Coultas. Just this past February, the center named Coultas as its new Chief Executive Officer. But her Master of Science in social work and nearly 20 years of experience in the field could not fully prepare her for the storm that immediately followed her onboarding at Hope’s Door.
“On the personal side I find myself, like most people, trying to find a new balance of working from home.”
Balancing her home life and office job, she attempts to stay calm in the midst of the chaos. Unlike many for-profit businesses, Hope’s Door feels a responsibility to care for as many people as possible while keeping its staff safe from harm. Effective March 17th through Friday, April 10th, the center has ceased face-to-face services at all office locations with the exception of its emergency shelter. All other services normally offered in person will be offered via phone and virtual access.
“The staff at Hope’s Door are truly amazing,” Coultas says. “They are being resilient in the face of all this uncertainty and show up to meet the needs of our clients. Their dedication to the mission is inspiring and their compassion is immeasurable.”
Counseling and advocacy aren’t the only services Hope’s Door provides. They also have an emergency shelter where victims can find refuge. Like other nonprofits with shelters in DFW, the Hope’s Door team has had to quickly rearrange remote work, identify key services and staff, and strategize quickly on how to keep operations going.
“Organizations across the metroplex that provide shelter are facing the same circumstances,” Coultas says, “balancing safety for staff with continued operations and concerns about having the essentials they need.”
On March 27th, the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) was signed into law by President Trump with a $2.2 trillion stimulus plan. CARES Act allows nonprofits to borrow 2.5 times their monthly payroll expenses totaling up to $10 million for payroll, rent, utilities, and mortgage costs, while many of them emphasize turning to social media for fundraising.
“Keeping the shelter supplied with food, cleaning supplies, and basic necessities continues to be of concern,” Coultas says. “The organization has also had to temporarily close our retail store and cancel our fundraising event this month which provides vital revenue to our organization.”
In spite of the necessary budget cuts, Hope’s Door’s emergency shelter remains staffed and open for business. “The shelter staff are truly superheroes,” Coultas says. “They continue to work with a skeleton crew 24/7 every day, shift after shift, answering calls for shelter and resources.”
The staff at Hope’s Door New Beginning Center will continue to provide much-needed safety and support to Collin and Dallas County victims and the surrounding area during the shelter-in-place order. And hopefully, as Hope’s Door hopes to achieve, to lessen the curve of the behind-the-scenes but equally pernicious threat of family and intimate partner abuse.
Hope’s Door’s 24-hour hotline, available in English and Spanish at 972.276.0057, is available 24/7.