Running through the sprinkler, enjoying treats from the ice cream truck, and going to camp with friends are all signals that the school year is over and summer has begun. Help and Emergency Response, Inc. (H.E.R.), a local domestic violence shelter has a different seasonal indicator: more people, less space.
“Every year, the exact day school lets out, our phones will be ringing off the hook, said hotline coordinator Jeanette Jordan. The summer season signals the second busiest season of the year for all local domestic violence shelters on the Southside of Hampton Roads. First is the Christmas holiday season. H.E.R. has already experienced a 17% increase in women and 68% increase in children entering the shelter in the last month.
“Many women nervously wait for the end of the school year to leave an abusive situation, said Beth Cross, director of H.E.R. “Their children’s schedules are less disrupted, a teacher won’t notice if they are gone, and the abuser can’t pick them up from school.”
H.E.R. is trying to brace for the summer swell in numbers, but the 42-person facility is already at 49 individuals (21women and 28 children) as well as two imminent danger households awaiting safety shelter in local hotels. While the H.E.R. facility provides security systems and 24-hour surveillance for those who are fearful their abuser will find them, those who are placed in hotels do not receive the same protection until space is made in the shelter.
Hotel partnerships cost the shelter thousands of dollars each year because there is simply not enough space. “We will end the year over budget for hotels stays, but we don’t have a choice,” said Brittany Landon, lead case manager. “These families are in danger, and we will not turn them away.”
Many victims flee in crisis, have very few resources planned, and cannot return to their job or anywhere the abuser may find them. H.E.R. provides crisis intervention and help families find permanent solutions to stabilize the victim and children, including housing, employment, child development, and court advocacy.
While the number of families that flee during the summer months is alarming, it does provide a chance for children to transition into a new life. The children at H.E.R. go on field trips, take part in support groups using art and play therapy techniques, and many other activities, thanks to volunteer groups.
“We want to expand our facilities and programs to accommodate more people,” said Beth Cross, “but like everyone, funding is dropping even though we are serving more clients than ever before.”
In the face of significant cuts in state and federal funds—as much as 65 percent, the government is trying to encourage the business world to invest in their community by offering the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP). NAP provides Virginia state tax credits to “front line” agencies like H.E.R. to be allocated to specific donors who will receive 65 percent credit of their donation on top of the tax deduction already offered. This program is designed to increase motivation for donors to change lives in their own community while getting something in return.
“We rely on community support to keep our programs going for the victims and children who need us,” Beth said. “This is a way for us to leverage their generosity.”
If you are fleeing a dangerous situation and would like more information or if you would like to use your summer vacation to change a life through donating or volunteering, call the H.E.R. 24hr Hotline, 485-1445 or visit www.hershelter.com.