This has been a tough financial year for us. The pandemic increased our expenditures, reduced our fundraising activities, and eroded dollars originally earmarked for victim services.
One year ago at this time — as our community eagerly prepared for holiday celebrations and yuletide gatherings — none of us could have imagined that in just a few weeks the onset of a global pandemic would dramatically change our lives.
In March 2020, we joined countless other nonprofit organizations grappling with fulfilling their missions while keeping clients, volunteers and staff safe.
There was no playbook for this.
Pandemics don’t stop abusers
When Michigan’s shelter-in-place mandate took effect, closing our ‘round-the-clock facility was not an option. Pandemics don’t stop abusers; in fact, history shows that abuse usually escalates when outside stressors are added to the fray.
Victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault needed us more than ever; we could not allow social isolation to keep them from the services, counselors and advocates that provide them safety and emotional support.
Our leadership teams came together to create a safety plan for the agency, with high-priority focus on service areas that needed to remain open 24-hours-a-day. We implemented new ways to protect our front-line staff: the social workers, nurses, counselors and advocates who directly interact with our clients in crisis.
We developed a series of options for clients and their children to continue connecting with us. A new telehealth system enabled us to hold screen-to-screen counseling sessions, and clients could choose to meet with counselors face-to-face in safe, socially distanced settings.
Keeping our doors open for victims
One of our biggest challenges was the Crisis Shelter, designed as a communal living facility.
Most of the sleeping areas are adjoining suites, much like dorm rooms. Each bedroom has three twin beds, which means six residents share one bathroom connecting the two rooms. In addition, the shelter’s kitchen, dining area, living room, and children’s play areas are all shared spaces.
COVID made this communal arrangement unworkable.
We immediately reduced shelter residency by 50 percent, and secured off-site hotel rooms for the remaining residents. Since then, we have provided 1,170 nights of safe hoteling and more than 3,500 off-site meals for victims and their families.
Victims reached out to us in record numbers
- Our Child Abuse Response Effort (CARE) operated on high alert throughout 2020. When Michigan’s shelter-in-place mandate lifted and children finally had access to adults outside their household, reports of suspected child abuse skyrocketed. From June through October, our child forensic interviews increased by 230 percent. In one week alone, our CARE unit conducted nine child forensic interviews.
- LACASA’s confidential Sexual Assault Response Center remained open 24-hours-a-day. Sexual assault victims seeking forensic exams from our specially-trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners doubled after June 1.
- Our 24/7 Helpline experienced a 96 percent call increase from victims in abusive situations who were struggling to cope, and feared coming to our Crisis Shelter because of COVID.
- The number of abuse victims seeking Personal Protection Orders tripled this year. Our legal advocates assisted nearly 100 victims with filing court documents to help secure their safety from assailants and abusers.
Looking back and forging ahead
Yes, this has been an extraordinarily difficult year — not only for victims and survivors — but for the organization as a whole. Like we shared earlier, COVID increased our expenditures, reduced our fundraising activities, and eroded dollars originally earmarked for victim services.
In 2021 — the year our organization celebrates its 40th anniversary — we face many unknowns. One thing we know for sure, though, is that we could not accomplish all that we do without your support. Donations from people like you have been the mainstay of our organization for 40 years.
Your generosity during this challenging time will help make our community safer, healthier and stronger.
We wish you a safe holiday season filled with heartfelt moments, and the joy of helping others during uncertain times.
The warmest of regards,
LACASA Board of Directors