SafeHope seeing expansion to respond to higher call volumes
Kim Ratzlaff works a job she wishes was not quite so secure — director of SafeHope, which provides advocacy and support to all survivors and secondary victims of domestic and sexual violence in Harvey, Marion and McPherson counties.
Calls for help to the organization have risen steadily, and, crisis line calls took a big jump between the fiscal years of 2020 and 2021. Up 43 percent, about 1,600 calls in the year.
"During a month, this is over 130 additional calls being taken by the advocates dispatching the requests," Ratzlaff said. "While the crisis line calls have increased significantly during 2021, we did see almost a 30% dip in the number of participants receiving emergency shelter."
She, and other advocates, are calling attention to domestic violence issues this month — National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The higher call volume is not unique to SafeHope. In Sept. 2020 during a one-day nationwide domestic violence census count, 824 victims were served in one day in Kansas. Those numbers include 393 adult and child victims who found refuge in shelters, transitional house or other housing provided by local domestic violence programs; 431 adult and child victims who received nonresidential assistance and services, including counseling, legal advocacy, children’s support groups and more.
Domestic violence hotlines are a lifeline for victims in danger, providing support, information, safety planning, and resources via phone, chat, text, and/or email. During the 24-hour survey period, hotline staff in Kansas received 195 contacts, averaging 8 contacts per hour.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as: the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence and emotional abuse. The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically; however, the one constant component of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.
According to the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence and the National Network to End Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.
SafeHope provides services to about 900 people in a year at the Outreach Offices in Harvey, McPherson and Marion counties, a number that Ratzlaff calls "consistent."
The organization has served those 900 people with a 10 bed safe house.
"We were able to add hotel advocacy when we cut our shelter in half due to the pandemic safety measures and the need to social distance. Due to the shared bathrooms and common areas, we could not use all the rooms at the shelter at the same time," Ratzlaff.
Not all SafeHope participants seek shelter, the organization provided shelter services to 78 people during the 2021 fiscal year. Ratzlaff said there was a drop in the number of persons sheltered — and that drop came from COVID-19.
COVID-19 made it harder to house shelter seekers, cutting the capacity of the safe house in an effort to observe COVID-19 safety protocols.
But there was something else behind the drop as well — the number of people working from home.
"Victims were simply not able to flee the home to escape due to the
abuser working remotely from the home office," Ratzlaff said."... Our goal continues to be the expansion of our shelter capacity. We are near the final stages of agency approval for HUD funds which would support our first phase of adding shelter units to our administrative building in Newton. We look forward to announcing this shelter opportunity as soon as we receive the final approval from HUD."
And the organization is trying to respond to a labor crisis as it attempts to expand facilities and serve more people.
"SafeHope, like other local employers, is challenged with the shortage of applicants to fill jobs," Ratzlaff said. "Today we have several jobs posted on our website www.safehope.net for Harvey and McPherson."