For women who are experiencing domestic violence, the pandemic has proven particularly challenging.
But thanks to organizations like Richmond’s Chimo Community Services, which operates Nova Transition House, people can access supports close to home. During the pandemic, Nova Transition House has experienced an increase in demand.
“There are hardly any words to describe what a woman feels when the only place that should be safe for her is the least safe place in the world,” says Tabitha Geraghty, Chimo’s executive director. “The challenge goes back to financial control, fear, the inability to leave because you don’t have the means to leave or the access to leave. The pandemic has really amplified all of those pieces for women who are in that situation.”
While previously there might have been other service options for women experiencing domestic violence, the pandemic makes the decision to stay or leave “black or white, one side of the door or the other,” says Geraghty.
She adds that the heightened stress of the pandemic can also increase instances of abuse.
“When we get into a high-stress season like the holidays, pandemics, recessions, that always triggers more abuse and more people fleeing domestic violence,” she says.
Chimo’s crisis line added a chat option at the beginning of the pandemic, as sometimes women who are isolated and quarantined with their abusers are unable to make a phone call. All Chimo programs continued during the pandemic, with some changes to accommodate safety protocols and needs.
Geraghty says there are many entry points to Chimo’s services that may guide people to the transition house. The organization takes a holistic view of clients’ needs, offering services like a crisis hotline, a family law program and counselling services, in addition to referring people to other nearby organizations for services they don’t offer. Geraghty says Richmond’s variety of non-profit resources is a point of pride, and helps clients get the supports they need.
“Quite often when a woman comes in and she tells her story, she doesn’t know what she needs,” says Geraghty. “It’s up to the worker to read between the lines and uncover (what supports are needed).”
Much of Chimo’s work is through word of mouth, which is why awareness is important.
“It’s your community that’s going to support you and give you the knowledge and the resources you need,” she says. “Chances are, if you’ve never needed a transition house you’ve never heard of it.”
Pre-pandemic, Chimo accepted physical donations of clothing and household items. But recently, donation funds have been used to create service kits that include things like clothes, linens and household items. And the help of other organizations including the Salvation Army, RAPS and Richmond Family Place has been instrumental.
“The Salvation Army accepts donations (during the pandemic), and when we need extra they always give us what we need. RAPS and Family Place provide the opportunity for women to go in and shop at their thrift stores for free to get start-up kits for things we can’t provide to them,” says Geraghty.
There have been some financial supports provided by the government, but Chimo has also done a lot of fundraising to meet their needs. The LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart program, which ends today, is also supporting Chimo’s programs and work again this year. All eight Shoppers Drug Mart locations in Richmond are participating. To learn more, click here.
Geraghty says Chimo’s services are available 24/7, and its team is constantly prepared to help people in need.
“We’ve been doing this for 47 years—we’re always ready to accept somebody who’s fleeing domestic violence.”
Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel