Bank of America grants help address growing need for domestic violence shelters

Posted at 6:58 AM, May 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 08:33:34-04

Local non-profits are getting more calls than ever from domestic violence victims needing a place to stay...and costs are mounting.

Samaritan House in Virginia Beach is reporting a 166 percent increase in abuse cases that require emergency shelter since the coronavirus pandemic started.

“We have seen the increase because a lot of them are home and the abusers are unemployed in the home as well, so the opportunity for abuse is higher," Samaritan House Executive Director Robin Gauthier told News 3 last week. "The children are home. There is much more financial stress than ever. People are losing their jobs. They’re unable to pay the rent. The stress is very high, and that’s a recipe for violence."

With dedicated shelter spaces at capacity, Gauthier says she's spending roughly $5,000-6,000 a week to house victims in hotels. Her typical yearly hotel budget is between $25,000 and $30,000.

"We've never had this much demand before and so we've had to reach out to the community and respond to all the COVID grants available," she said.

One of the first to reach out was Bank of America, a long-time partner of the non-profit.

"We called each of the executive directors (of Samaritan House and the YWCA of South Hampton Roads) and had a frank conversation. 'How can we be of assistance?'," said Charlie Henderson, President of Bank of America's Hampton Roads market. "What we heard was, 'You can help us immediately with philanthropic support,' which we were able to do."

Bank of America awarded both Samaritan House and YWCA of South Hampton Roads $25,000 grants to help support their efforts to shelter domestic violence victims. The grants are part of $500,000 in emergency dollars the bank's local branches set aside to address the pandemic.

Gauthier says she immediately used the money to pay the Samaritan House hotel bill.

"We're just so thankful to Bank of America and other folks that are willing to assist non-profits with extra funding right now because they know we're up against it," she told News 3.

Mary Kate Andris, President of YWCA of South Hampton Roads, says she's not only using the grant dollars to put abuse victims into hotels. It's also helping her reimburse staff who are using their own cars to drive Mercy Chefs meals to victims.

Andris tells News 3 domestic abuse cases during the pandemic have been scary, particularly violent and some have even been deadly.

Those seeking help are desperate to get out of a dangerous situation, but she believes many haven't called for help...and won't until people are leaving their homes more regularly.

"I'm afraid for the capacity and being able to respond to all the folks who might call us or walk into our office," said Andris. "We're mentally preparing ourselves for that, we're talking about long-term plans for the flood, but we're expecting a deluge of people. I don't know when, but I know that it's coming because my colleagues in YWCA Seattle are seeing it, my colleagues in YWCA El Paso are seeing it."

That means the need for donations is only expected to continue. Both the YWCA and Samaritan House say they're accepting donations on their websites or in the form of mail-in checks.

But the biggest concern will always be making sure victims of domestic violence, both women and men, can find immediate help to get out of a dangerous situation. Andris says 14 percent of YWCA's clients are men each year.

"When your abuser is taking a shower, mowing the lawn or running to the grocery store the one time that week. That is the time to call us," said Andris. "Our hotline folks are able to text you once we make the contact. Sometimes texting is a little bit safer."

Both Samaritan House and YWCA have hotlines with people standing by to help:
Samaritan House: 757-430-2120
YWCA: 757-251-0144