COVID-19 in NEPA: Domestic violence advocates worry about women’s safety in the pandemic

Women's Resource Center (Screen Capture).

You can hear the concern in their voices. 

Regional leaders who focus on women’s welfare in northeastern Pennsylvania discussed several issues that they’re addressing as the area battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’re worried about homeless women and those who are victims of domestic violence. They’re grappling with finding new funding sources for their organizations, or dwindling resources. They’re stressed about their staff.

“It’s been very difficult,” Peg Ruddy told the Capital-Star. She’s the executive director of the Women’s Resource Center in Scranton, which helps victims of domestic violence in Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties. “This pandemic has given abusers another tool in their toolboxes. Everyone says, ‘People are safe at home,’ well, that’s not true for everybody.”

The organizations are trying to reach as many women as they can. That means resources. All of the leaders who spoke to the Capital-Star admitted generating revenue is a problem.

“Fundraising is a huge challenge,” said Michele Minor-Wolf. She runs the Victims Intervention Program, which serves women in Wayne and Pike Counties.

They also need things they’ve never had to get before. They’re trying to stock up on masks, hand sanitizer and other items needed to remain healthy as the pandemic continues to spread in the region.

Jodina Hicks, the president of Volunteers of America of Pennsylvania, runs Ruth’s Place, which helps find housing for homeless women in Luzerne County. The facility has had to get creative to help women get safe housing

“We’re figuring things out,” she said.

Stuck inside

Ensuring women have safe housing is a primary goal. One concern is that women stuck at home with an abusive partner have fewer opportunities to reach out.

“It concerns me terribly,” Minor-Wolf said. Her group is trying to keep lines of dialogue open. They’re staying more active on social media, as well as making sure women know they can be reached through their website.

They’ve also gotten some local restaurants to include flyers takeout orders, advertising the group’s contact information.

“We’re doing our best to find other ways to get the word out,” Minor-Wolf said.

Women are finding ways to get in touch with those who can help. 

“At the beginning, our hotline was very quiet,” Ruddy said. “We’ve seen that shift. We’ve seen women get really creative about being able to call the hotline now.” 

Minor-Wolf pointed out that neighbors and family can call if they think a woman is in a dangerous situation.

Changing protocol

The virus has brought changes to each organization. With staff working from home, they often can’t meet with victims in person. Meetings take place over Zoom, Skype or other online programs. 

Ruddy’s group normally meets with victims at the hospital. Now, they have to talk to them over the phone. 

Getting women into safe homes and shelters is also a drastically different operation.

“We don’t do admissions as quickly as we normally have,” Hicks said.

For Ruth’s Place, that meant finding an isolation space. New women can’t just go into the same room as the others. The facility has a shared bathroom space and kitchen.

“There’s no way to have isolation space with the current layout,” Hicks explained.

So they’ve gotten creative with a few apartment units they’re renting. Between the units and the facility, Ruth’s place is housing 16 women. 

Seeking help

Minor-Wolf explained that organizations like theirs often rely on grants, which require the groups to raise a matching percentage, but with resources scarce, each administrator said donations are needed.

The Victims Intervention Program normally has a geranium sale every April. The pandemic has caused them to cancel it. Their August fundraiser is also up in the air.

There are other ways people can help out. Minor-Wolf pointed out that gift cards to grocery stores are welcome. Hicks said that people could send prepared meals from restaurants or grocery stores, as well. 

To help either organization, visit the Women’s Resource Center, Ruth’s Place or the Victims Intervention Program