How Philly’s first domestic violence hotline maintained its mission amid COVID-19
Women Against Abuse first began its hotline in 1976. During the pandemic, the service need was dire, and new avenues of contact were developed.
The thought of having a women's emergency center to benefit women and mothers experiencing partner violence was something that has always been on the mind of Gloria Gay.
Women Against Abuse, a local nonprofit organization, first operated as a part-time hotline center catering to women in the Philadelphia area in 1976.
A year later, the organization created its first shelter from a single-row home. At the time, the shelter was the only women's shelter in Philadelphia.
“After so many years later, we now operate two, 100-bed emergency safe havens, which are Philadelphia’s only domestic violence shelters,” Katie Young-Wildes, the senior communications specialist at Women Against Abuse, said in a recent interview with AL DIA News.
The beds are provided to women for short-term stays of up to 90 days.
Despite its growth to 200 beds, there are still thousands of people in the city facing domestic violence who struggle to get services.
“We also have a transitional housing program,” said Young-Wildes.
The housing program, called the Sojourner Housing program, has 15 apartment units that women can stay in for up to 18 months, giving them the time to transition to independent living.
The organization also maintains some affordable housing units from another nonprofit called Mission First.
“We also provide resume management and interview preparation workshops,” she said.
Besides providing resources for women, they also offer trauma-formed therapy for children, and other youth services such as summer camp and afterschool programs.
“We also provide case management services for children and women,” she said.
All services are confidential to provide safety.
As domestic violence continued to rise in Philadelphia, the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the trend last March, as more women were trapped inside during quarantine with their abusers.
“We have seen thousands of calls on Philadelphia's Domestic Violence Hotline this year,” said Young-Wildes. “We are getting told to stay home and stay safe, but what do you do when your home is not safe? You can't even go to your family or friends house right now.”
To relieve some of the stress on the hotline, and to give women a more subtle way to contact services, Women Against Abuse also launched a web chat program for more discreet correspondences.
“That offer is available daily, from noon until 8 p.m. on our website. This is an easier way for women to secretly seek help, it makes it look like you are just scrolling on your phone” said Young-Wildes.
Early results show that the website feature has been successful in providing a gateway to services for more women facing domestic abuse.
The hotline is still a city-wide 24-hour resource, and it operates in partnership with three other organizations — Women in Transition, Lutheran Settlement House, and Congreso de Latinos Unidos.
All together, the nonprofit gets between 11,000-13,000 calls a year on the hotline alone.
“Hotline counselors will provide a safety plan, provide crisis intervention, and connect them with local resources,” she said.
Another crucial blockade brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic was that all the courts in Philadelphia were closed for an amount of time.
It took time for a virtual transition, and when it was complete, Women Against Abuse was one of the first to advocate for access points for individuals dealing with domestic violence.
To this day, attorneys are still representing clients virtually.
“We wanted to make sure that there was a process in multiple ways to access the help that these individuals needed,” said Young-Wildes.
The organization continues to ensure women and others who have suffered domestic abuse realize their dreams and to keep moving forward, no matter how hard it may seem.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse please call 1-866-723-3014 or visit their website to start a webchat.