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.”