Domestic Violence Advocates Describe Increased Demand For Support Services During Pandemic

Neyda DeJesus, the residential director at the Women’s Resource Center, said staff have worked longer hours this past year to keep the center operating through the pandemic. The building is currently open to clients by appointment. (Antonia Ayres-Brown/The Public’s Radio)

Rhode Island saw a surge in calls to domestic violence helplines in 2020, as people were directed to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As much of the state reopens, domestic violence prevention advocates say the need for support services remains high.

Every day, Neyda DeJesus answers calls from domestic violence survivors seeking help. One of her first questions is always the same: “Are you in a safe place to talk to me right now?”

DeJesus is the residential director at the Women’s Resource Center, a domestic violence prevention agency in Newport. She runs the center’s 12-bed emergency shelter, as well as its transitional housing program, where domestic violence survivors and their children can stay for up to two years while they look for a safe, permanent home.

Even before COVID-19, DeJesus said, the center couldn’t keep up with requests for housing.

“There’s never enough beds, whether we have a high increase in calls or a decrease in calls,” she said. “We can’t serve everyone because we just don’t have enough beds.”

Since the pandemic began, the problem has only gotten worse. Last summer, the Women’s Resource Center rented additional space to double the emergency shelter’s capacity. With those extra beds, the center managed to shelter twice as many people last year as it did the year before.

Read the rest of the story at The Public’s Radio’s website.