The COVID-19 pandemic throughout the past year has posed endless challenges to local businesses and community organizations, and it’s only been more difficult for those groups that already served those who are suffering.
Domestic Harmony, whose place in Hillsdale is to provide emergency response services for those suffering from domestic violence as well as to promote larger change to fight for its eventual extinction, has remained open during the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was no difference in the type of care the shelter offered, but to whom Domestic Harmony was able to provide help changed significantly. Domestic Harmony executive director Hannah Jordan said limiting the occupancy has been the hardest part about COVID-19 restrictions.
“Just to keep social distance within the shelter because we have two rooms that could hold a bigger size family,” Jordan said. “Although there are six bedrooms, it doesn’t mean six people would be able to fit.”
While the shelter typically used to have four or five staff members working at a time, Jordan explained the need to limit their contact for the purpose of avoiding quarantine. With a small staff size, the shelter wouldn’t be able to function in that case if an individual staff member contracted the virus.
“If one of us was positive or had to quarantine, then all four of us would have to quarantine and then we would be down quite a lot of bodies to keep the shelter going. Like I said, there’s nine of us. Just a couple of us quarantined for two weeks. That’s really hard.”
Jordan said the shelter fortunately hasn’t had an outbreak of COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic.
“We are thankful about it but we’ve also been very diligent about our practices,” she said. “We’ve had to have staff-only be there, one person at a time and just stagger it.”
Throughout the past year there have been little changes in terms of the number of people present. Unlike restaurants that are subject to changing rulings regarding capacity, shelters have been protected from health department COVID-19 orders. Jordan said they were only advised to adjust capacity like everybody in the state.
While most other shelters have reduced their occupancy or separated rooms in unique ways, Jordan said the way their rooms are set up doesn’t allow that level of flexibility. So their policy requires keeping one family per room, with only three to four rooms able to be used right now.
“Before this we might put two single women in the room or something like that, depending on what rooms. We may have several beds and some rooms have two beds, while one room has one bed,” Jordan said. “So it just depended on what was available and we could pack certain beds in different rooms, but that would not be an option right now.”
According to the GOAL program leader for Domestic Harmony Emma Matheson, since the onset of COVID-19 last spring, Domestic Harmony hasn’t permitted volunteers from the college nor from the city in their facility.
Although Matheson said they’re monitoring their COVID-19 case numbers and plan to act accordingly, they’re relying only on their employees as of right now. To protect one another from spreading the virus, Domestic Harmony is allowing one employee to work at a time, and therefore they’re receiving limited hours.
“Their hours are really limited so they don’t can’t really afford to have volunteers come in for a period of time,” Matheson said. “And they’re doing like half capacity, so normally they have six rooms, but they’re now sticking to less than that of course.”
College students volunteering through the GOAL program have stayed active helping the shelter in non-traditional ways. In addition to donating craft supplies to keep those at the shelter occupied, Matheson and her volunteers have put their baking skills to use to provide baked goods as well.
“We have to limit our contact, and I needed our paid staff to make sure that their hours were being met,” Jordan said. “It’s like a double edged sword. I just want to keep everybody safe, but at the same time we haven’t had the connection with our GOAL students.”
Jordan said she’s hopeful that students will be able to return volunteering in the shelter as usual next school year. With the shelter’s spring cleanup and other philanthropic opportunities coming up, Jordan said she would be happy to welcome students back.
“It’s more creative ways that they can help us, rather than managing or or answering the crisis line like they were before. They’re still helping.”