Domestic violence shelter: Calls more than double, shelter stays up almost 300%

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Domestic violence numbers in the Cape Fear continue to go up as the pandemic continues and shelters struggle to keep up with the need.

The Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, Inc. in Wilmington says the number of calls they’ve received over the last six months have doubled.

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“We are almost at a 300% increase in shelter nights, which means we are sheltering that many more people for that long of a time,” Andrea Stough, who works with the shelter, said.

This time in 2019, Stough says the shelter had around seven residents on any given night. This year, she says they have an average of 25 residents on any given night. The location of the shelter is kept private for safety reasons. 

“We’ve seen a really big escalation in the level of violence and abuse,” she said. “Even if it’s not physical violence, the intensity of the verbal abuse and emotional abuse has really ratcheted up as well.”Back in April, Stough said the shelter had already seen a jump in calls, and they had already started to see a demand for services. But she thinks the pandemic may have held even more people back from seeking help.

“I think a lot of families with children were really afraid of shelter environments and reaching out to anything like that, because of the risk of COVID,” Stough said.

Months later, she says their numbers keep climbing.

“At one point in July, we were up to 47 residents, which is pretty high for us,” she said. “Right now, at our location, it’s considered full if we have between 10 and 12.”

From March 16 to September 30, Stough says they saw a 104% increase in their total number of calls, from 1,203 in 2019 to 2,452 in 2020.

She says the number of people in their shelter, or shelter nights, are up 283% from 1,315 in 2019 to 5,039 in 2020.
Stough says their overall services are up 31%, from 3,124 in 2019 to 4,087 in 2020.

On top of that, she says they’ve had to get creative with their services and outreach due to pandemic restrictions.

“Our empowerment group, which has always been highly attended and really, a great resource people, has had to move to Zoom. Touching base by phone,” Stough said.

The shelter’s administration office is still closed to walk-ins due to pandemic restrictions, but Stough says the shelter has created a text and online messaging service to reach as many people as possible.

Despite its challenges, if the pandemic brought one good thing, Stough says it could be a catalyst for some victims.

“Before, you might’ve been able to go out and get a break from things, or have different outlets,” she said. “If those outlets are taken away, you might really be in that place where you’re ready to make change.”

Stough says they’ve really had to lean on the community for help finding places to shelter people, feeding people and even getting school supplies for children doing remote learning.
If you or someone you know needs helps, you can find resources and contact information for the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, Inc. here.