When you feel as though you’re living the same day over and over again, you don’t want that day to involve fear for your life.
For millions of people facing domestic violence, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has made a difficult situation even worse. Quarantines and social distancing guidelines have trapped families together like never before. Respites provided by work, school, or errands have been lost. Layoffs and reduced work hours have added financial burdens that raise family tensions and threaten homelessness for those living paycheck to paycheck.
Small wonder, then, that domestic violence reports are up. Seattle police reported a 21% increase in domestic violence calls in March alone.
“Being home 24/7 means that many of the times when survivors could get help or make a call to us, those opportunities are not there,” explains Kelly Becker, development director for LifeWire, a Seattle service organization for survivors of domestic violence. As a result, she notes, “Requests for help obtaining emergency protection orders at the beginning of the stay-at-home order went from three or four a week to 10 or 12 a day—a huge increase.”
In such circumstances, LifeWire becomes a lifeline, providing safety, education, and emotional, legal, and financial support. That can mean everything from answering a panicked phone call with compassion to providing transitional housing for a parent and children who’ve escaped a bad situation.
“LifeWire started in 1982 as an all-volunteer organization, and now we're the largest comprehensive domestic violence service agency in Washington state,” explains Becker. The organization’s mission is to end domestic violence by changing individual, institutional, and societal beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that perpetuate it.
To reach a vision of a world in which every person lives in a safe environment, free from oppression and with the opportunity to thrive, Becker and the other 33 employees on the LifeWire team have long been accustomed to providing 24-hour help and mobile services. They frequently have met individuals who needed help in safe public places. Face-to-face consultations were the norm.
The pandemic upended this service model. How do you help vulnerable people you can’t meet?
LifeWire has been able to answer that question with help from a $10,000 F5 Global Good Tech for Good grant for COVID-19 Response. The grant funded hardware and software that helped the organization transition quickly to providing services remotely. Equipped with new laptops and monitors, LifeWire employees shifted to working mostly from home. The legal team can still file court documents. The financial team can still cut checks for emergency funds. Human resources staff can now manage paperwork and grant compliance in the cloud. And people in LifeWire’s transitional housing can use a new facility fondly called the Zoom Room. This remote conferencing setup connects program participants with LifeWire advocates and third-party resources.
“This grant has helped us all work remotely, and it's been seamless, which is amazing,” says Becker. “The Zoom Room is available to help program participants connect with the mental health therapist, the nurse, our advocates, and teachers for their kids. That's all been great for helping them become stable.”
“Those families often face a lot of barriers,” Becker explains. Domestic violence, which affects an estimated 10 million people in the United States each year,[i] knows no socio-economic, racial, or gender boundaries. Nonetheless, more than half of LifeWire’s program participants have very low incomes. Becker notes, “We serve vulnerable individuals living in poverty, immigrants using English as a second language, those with chronic health and chemical dependency concerns, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community, all with domestic violence issues.”
To that catalog of vulnerabilities, add financial losses and upheaval driven by social distancing orders. “The pandemic has really impacted families that were already on the edge, living paycheck to paycheck,” says Becker. “Many are experiencing loss of income through the combination of illness, sudden childcare needs as a result of school closures, and layoffs or reduced work hours. Many of our survivors work in the services industry, and that's taken a very hard hit.”
Even in ordinary circumstances, domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children in the United States. Finding a safe place to live has become even harder today. LifeWire helps as many people as its funding permits—about 3,100 in 2019, including 282 families who received shelter or related support. Those efforts kept more than 650 people from becoming homeless.
Becker notes, however, that the demand is greater. For every family helped into safer housing, LifeWire must turn away roughly five others.
“One in four women and one in nine men in our community will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes,” she says. Although the helpline phone normally rings an average of nearly twice an hour, 365 days of the year, she adds, “We’ve had a dramatic increase in requests for emergency financial assistance.”
F5 employee Mandy Skiffington, a project manager with F5 Talent Acquisition, was aware of that increase. Skiffington, who learned about LifeWire through a friend, has been a supporter for a half-dozen years. She acted fast when she saw the F5 grant opportunity. “Like two days later, they received it!” she says. “I was super happy, and it was turned around so quickly.”
“I don't think we would have been able to put this strong infrastructure in place and make the transition to working mostly by computer and phone eight months ago,” says Rachel Krinsky, LifeWire’s executive director. “We’re very grateful for the grant, and the timing was perfect. We’re in a strong place because of it, not only doing great work but weathering the crisis.”
As a result, LifeWire is ready to continue helping anyone facing domestic violence. “If readers need us, we’re here for them,” Becker notes.
If not, LifeWire could use your help instead. The organization’s annual fundraising gala has been postponed due to the pandemic, but donations are always welcome. Becker says, “Stepping up to support us is just one of the ways people can be part of our mission to end domestic violence.”
F5 Global Good is built on three pillars: supporting the causes that employees are most passionate about in communities around the world, helping to build the pipeline of tomorrow’s changemakers and future leaders through STEM education impact grants, and supporting nonprofit organizations with their digital transformation efforts through Tech for Good impact grants. F5 recognizes that grants to help nonprofits with tech-specific needs are crucial—especially now that we’re relying on technology to keep us all connected while we practice social distancing. As part of its COVID-19 Response efforts, F5 has awarded $250,000 in Tech for Good grants to nonprofits in Australia, France, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and the U.S. Grant recipients are using these funds to bolster their technology infrastructures, making it possible for them to streamline administrative efforts, improve data security, and—most importantly—expedite their missions so they can do even more to help those they serve.