D.C. Non-Profit Gives Domestic Violence Survivors a Safe Space During Pandemic

My Sister's Place has expanded their services to at-risk women over the past year. Photo by Hannah Busing/Unsplash

MeKayla Pierre, Howard University News Service

My Sister’s Place, a D.C.-based organization, continues to serve victims of domestic violence despite the ongoing struggles of the pandemic.

When Covid-19 first hit the U.S., the potential ramifications sparked panicked conversations across the nation. Americans, worried about the state of their health, were advised to avoid the outside world and all its newfound risks. But others found their safety at risk within the walls of their own homes. One of these risks was domestic violence. 

This is where My Sister’s Place became more necessary than ever. My Sister’s Place has been serving the D.C. community for over 40 years as the city’s first domestic violence shelter. According to their website, the organization offers a variety of services and resources consisting of emergency shelters, transitional-to-permanent housing, and counseling. 

Khircelle Forde, a social worker for My Sister’s Place, said these resources have been utilized “a little bit more” since the pandemic started but she did expect more calls than they’ve received thus far. “Because of Covid, I would think that we would get more calls on the hotline. Just because there’s very limited places for them to go now, especially with some organizations closing down or having limited vacancies,” Forde said.

The increased need for these resources that Forde anticipated has manifested itself across the country. In San Antonio, Texas, the police department reported an 18 percent increase in calls about family violence in March 2020 compared to the year before. This occurred in the same month that San Antonio residents were issued their first stay-at-home order. It was also during this time that the New York City Police Department report analysis showed a 10 percent increase in domestic violence reports compared to the previous year. Other states are realizing the same patterns as more data develops.

But even though the need for assistance is present, the current circumstances of the pandemic has put a strain on organizations’ ability to serve their communities. 

Crismeily Maloney, bilingual admissions and family programs manager for My Sister’s Place, has witnessed this challenge firsthand working in the shelter. 

“Resources in the community have slowed down so the process of moving clients or transitioning clients to their own places, to their safe place, is not easy.” But regardless of the difficulty, Maloney stated that “we’re still trying our best to serve the families.”

Mercedes Lemp, the executive director of My Sister’s Place, has displayed a more positive outlook on the progress of the organization during these trying times. “We have continued and expanded our work during the past year,” she said, “and we have a great team that has been able to pivot our work to deal with Covid restrictions.” Although some of her employees have stated that the lack of resources is their biggest concern, Lemp has chosen to maximize on the resources that they do have. Including support meetings over video calls as well as their ability to send art kits home so their clients can participate in Zoom art therapy. She was especially proud of their Fresh Start Fund for families that have lost income because of the pandemic and the increased expenses of their kids being home all day. “The Fund is there exactly for this type of situation – to help families cover unexpected, one-time bills that may otherwise send them back to homelessness.” As of now, the organization has added 53 new families to their community case counseling and 30 new spots for families seeking transitional housing.