St. Martha’s Hall continues to help abused women and their children, but the coronavirus outbreak has impacted how the Catholic Charities agency provides in-person services and shelter.
When the outbreak arrived in the St. Louis area, St. Martha’s Hall noticed a decrease in calls at first. “With people working from home, it became harder for women to reach out and ask for services,” said executive director Jessica Woolbright. “All of the things that normally made it difficult for a woman to leave were exaggerated because of the pandemic.”
St. Martha’s Hall is a federated agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, which receives support from the Annual Catholic Appeal. The agency assists abused women and their children break the cycle of violence in their lives by offering safe, confidential shelter and services, including crisis intervention, support groups and individual support, follow-up services, advocacy and community education.
Beyond isolation concerns, Woolbright said that increased financial problems, such as lost jobs and wages, have exacerbated domestic abuse situations. “Whether they lost a job, or lost their daycare and had to quit their job … if she does not have her own resources, it makes it harder for her to leave an abusive relationship,” Woolbright said.
Calls to the shelter have since increased and remained consistent, with an average of
140-175 calls a month from March through July. However, shelter capacity was reduced to a maximum of 50 percent capacity, “so we are unable to offer shelter to a significant number of families,” she added.
From March through July, the shelter was unable to provide in-person services to 381 women and 208 children who called the crisis line. Some of those numbers were likely duplicates, referring to women who called more than once during that time period, Woolbright added. However, those who were not able to receive in-person services received safety planning and referrals to other services. In some cases, women and their children have been given shelter at hotels, which Woolbright said isn’t ideal, but helps them to escape their abusers.
In addition to reducing shelter capacity, St. Martha’s Hall also asked each new family to isolate in a quarantine room for two weeks, to slow any potential spread of the virus.
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced in July that the county will reserve $1 million in federal pandemic relief funds for programs that help victims of domestic violence. The funding comes from the $173.5 million St. Louis County received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. St. Martha’s Hall is among the service providers and others who have submitted proposals to receive some of the funding.
Woolbright credited St. Louis County for recently establishing a system to file orders of protection online. Legal Services of Eastern Missouri also has been helping clients to access court hearings virtually. “Most services we work with have done a good job of pivoting,” she said. “I think everyone has done the best that they can under the circumstances. We’re going to be dealing with the consequences of this for years to come.”
>> If you need help
• Law enforcement agencies continue to respond to calls — dial 911 if you need immediate help.
• If it is safe to do so, contact your local domestic and sexual violence program for support and help in forming a safety plan. St. Martha’s Hall is online at saintmarthas.org or at its 24-hour hotline, (314) 533-1313. For other resources, visit www.mocadsv.org/how-to-get-help/.
• You also can talk to an advocate when you call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or live chat at www.thehotline.org.
>> Support St. Martha’s Hall
• For information on donating online, including online shopping wish lists, see saintmarthas.org/ways-to-help.
• Or mail donations to St. Martha’s Hall, Mailstop 472001, P.O. Box 953745, St. Louis, MO 63195-3745
• St. Martha’s Hall is one of several Catholic Charities agencies supported by the Annual Catholic Appeal.