Domestic Abuse Family Shelter Observes Domestic Violence Awareness Month
The Domestic Abuse Family Shelter (DAFS) is a partner agency of United Way of Southeast Mississippi. We spoke with DAFS Executive Director Becky Stewart about how they're observing Domestic Violence Awareness Month and how support from UW helps them serve clients.
UWSEMS: What service or program do you provide that's funded by United Way of Southeast Mississippi?
Stewart: United Way dollars are used for operational expenses at the Hattiesburg shelter and counseling office. In addition, United Way dollars are used as match monies for the Victims of Crime Assistance Grant (20 percent), Mississippi Department of Health Domestic Violence Fund Grants (25 percent) and FVPSA Grants (20 percent). These grants cover the majority of direct services and personnel cost. Federal grants require operational costs to be pro-rated at 60 percent leaving the other 40 percent to be covered by state grants, United Way monies, local monies and donations.
UWSEMS: How has United Way support helped your agency continue services for clients throughout the pandemic, if at all?
Stewart: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a very trying time for our agency along with thousands of others. We took the appropriate steps to maintain our services to survivors during this time by adjusting work schedules of staff, following proper sanitation procedures as recommended, and using PPE. The most difficulty we encountered was securing proper PPE for employees and clients. Kari Lynn, with United Way, was helpful as we reached out asking for assistance. We were able to secure proper equipment with the help of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Many concerns about client needs were alleviated knowing the agency has stable funding. We are most proud of the fact that we have continued to operate as normal and not turn survivors away due to COVID-19.
UWSEMS: How has financial support from United Way SEMS made a difference for your agency and the people you serve?
Stewart: The Domestic Abuse Family Shelter strives to provide services for adults and children who are victims of domestic violence. Many of our victims and survivors have been involved in violent relationships and are not able to protect their own interest, as well as the interests of their children. Many victims and survivors require emergency shelter due to abuse, neglect or exploitation. DAFS continues to provide the information, advocacy and skills necessary for individuals to empower themselves and break the cycle of violence. United Way funding provides much needed funds to maintain all of our services free of charge. We sincerely appreciate the fact that our United Way agencies spend a great deal of time and effort in raising money for the agency. Additionally, if DAFS did not receive funding from the United Way of Southeast Mississippi, it would impair us as an agency the ability to provide the desperately needed services to victims of domestic violence in Forrest, Lamar, Marion and Perry counties.
UWSEMS: What would you say to someone who wants to help your cause?
Stewart: I would say that when you donate to United Way, you are helping those in need in your local community as United Way monies are given back to the communities they serve. Our agency, for example, would not be able to provide all our services free of charge to those desperately needing our services. When you give to United Way, you may never know or realize the impact of your giving. I can assure you that each penny given is used to generate services for those needing assistance. We simply could not do what we do for victims without the funds we receive from United Way of Southeast Mississippi!
UWSEMS: How can members of the community access your services right now?
Stewart: Community members needing our services can call our Crisis Line at 1-800-649-1092, 24-hours a day, for immediate assistance. We can assist callers with advocacy whether they require shelter or not. We can refer to appropriate social service agencies, law enforcement and emergency medical services if needed. We also provide counseling to members of the community. All the services provided by DAFS are free of cost to any victim of domestic violence.
UWSEMS: Why is Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October so important to the cause your agency serves?
Stewart: Domestic violence impacts millions of people each year, but it can be prevented. Domestic Violence Awareness Month each October helps our agency, along with thousands of other agencies and organizations, bring awareness to domestic violence and what can be done to help end domestic violence. Many people care and understand that domestic violence is a serious public health problem. They want to do something but may believe their actions cannot make a difference. We believe it can!
UWSEMS: What, if any, awareness efforts does DAFS have in place this month and how can those interested get involved?
Stewart: We honor those who have lost their life to domestic violence and celebrate those that have survived. DAFS takes part in many awareness activities as we work with local and state governments to bring awareness at Proclamation Days, join with Law Enforcement Victim Advocates to bring awareness community-wide, and participate in community health events. This year, we have a large social media campaign that will be on our Facebook page. Get involved by sharing our information on social media, wear purple on each Friday in October, listen to a victim, refer victims to DAFS, share your story, get involved in your community, be a voice for the voiceless victims, offer support, encouragement, stability and love to victims, and last but not least, VOTE in state, federal, and local elections. We depend on policymakers and their support of programs that provide services to domestic violence victims.
UWSEMS: What message would you like to leave with the community regarding the cause?
Stewart: Last year, The Domestic Abuse Family Shelter served 209 victims in shelter, which included over 6,400 nights spent in shelters. We served many more non-residential clients by providing advocacy and referral to social service agencies, counseling and legal advocacy. I am afraid this year, we will see our numbers rise even higher due to COVID-19. Around the globe, governments have implored residents to stay home to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. But for domestic violence victims—the vast majority of whom are women, children, and LGBTQ+ individuals—home is a dangerous place.
Data from many regions already suggests significant increases in domestic violence cases, particularly among marginalized populations, and Mississippi is no different.
It is important to remember that domestic violence was a global pandemic long before the COVID-19 outbreak. According to data collected by the United Nations, 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 worldwide were subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months. Put a different way, 1 in 3 women has experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in her life. LGBTQ+ individuals experience similarly high levels of violence.
Today, rising numbers of sick people, growing unemployment, increased anxiety and financial stress, and a scarcity of community resources have set the stage for an exacerbated domestic violence crisis. Many victims find themselves isolated in violent homes, without access to resources or friend and family networks. Abusers could experience heightened financial pressures and stress, increase their consumption of alcohol or drugs, and purchase or hoard guns as an emergency measure. Experts have characterized an “invisible pandemic” of domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis as a “ticking time bomb” or a “perfect storm.”
To learn more about the Domestic Abuse Family Shelter and their partnership with United Way, click HERE.