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D.C. Shelters See Increase In Victims Of Domestic Violence Since Shutdown

The government shutdown has had financial impacts that are likely to linger long after lawmakers come to a resolution. A more visceral effect has been felt in the District's 13 domestic violence resource centers, which have seen an increase in the number of victims seeking help.

D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence Executive Director Karma Cottman says the trend has been noticeable.

"We have seen some programs with a 50 percent increase in victims needing assistance in the past month," Cottmann says. "The violence gets more lethal, and we see more people who just need basic needs met."

The District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH D.C.), for instance, normally shelters about 25 victims in a month. The number is up to 44 walk-ins in the last month, according to Shakeita Boyd, community housing program director.

"Our phone lines have been jumping since the shutdown," Boyd says.

Natalia Otero, director with D.C. Safe, says their shelter gets its largest number of victims during the summer, when children are out of school and the parent can more easily make an escape. But the number of victims has been remaining steady during the fall, which is unusual.

"The fact that we haven't yet seen a drop-off is telling of how the shutdown is affecting domestic violence," Otero says.

Even as shelters cope with an increase in clients, they're also facing a financial pinch. An end to the government shutdown should restore some of their federal grant money, but the effects won't go away overnight, says Peg Hacskaylo, executive director of DASH D.C.

"Money that would have normally gone to crisis situations is instead just going to help patch up the financial damage done by the shutdown," she says.

Federally-funded shelters have been running on reserve money, drawing down emergency funds, according to Cottman. D.C. Safe, for instance, had to raise more than $19,000 just to keep its lights on.

The effects of the shutdown will not go away immediately for shelter clients either, who often face obstacles of their own.

"We had a client whose partner ran up her electric bill then stole her EBT card. We tried to help her, but the resources we normally refer clients to weren't able to help her," Otero says. "We were able to find a sponsor for her, but we have to treat situations like that on a case-by-case base now."

Helping people find their footing after domestic violence is especially hard for centers now, with fewer resources and more intakes.

"People come to our program to get their lives back together, and we are just trying to help people reestablish themselves," Hacskaylo says. "But these games that Congress are playing is undermining all of the work we do."

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