Emerge! Pandemic changed how agency approaches domestic violence prevention

In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month and a rise in domestic violence during COVID-19 outbreak, the Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse is asking Pima County residents to join in their educational campaigns and Stuff-the-Bus events. 

The nonprofit organization assists victims of domestic violence—whether women or men—by finding them shelter, providing crisis intervention and teaching safety planning. These services continued during the pandemic, but Emerge had to adjust quickly to continue providing them to people experiencing domestic violence, which increased in some households because families were struggling with stay-at-home recommendations, school closures and other aspects of the pandemic. 

“We had to review and revise all of our policies and procedures very quickly, to make sure that we were responding in a way that maximized participant safety and staff safety,” said Lauryn Bianco, Emerge vice president of operations and philanthropy.

Bianco said the organization had to change everything about delivering services. Hotline employees needed to take their phones home with them and set up a secure line. In-person appointments became Zoom meetings and Emerge had to close its shelter.

In order to accommodate families that needed to be relocated for protection, Emerge managed to rehouse families in different places. This led to a surprising realization.

“During the pandemic, we were able to provide services in independent spaces for families, and we learned that actually mitigated a lot of different trauma that families experienced when they came into our shelter,” Bianco said.

The current shelter usually places families together, which is why the shelter had to be closed when COVID hit Arizona. Officials are finding that housing families separately helps start the healing process for survivors more quickly than shared housing. While there is no quick process to healing trauma, separate housing got extremely positive feedback from their clients.

After seeing how well clients reacted to independent housing units, Emerge began asking for funding from local governments to build a bigger shelter.

“Any expansion of shelter capacity is necessary now, not just for Emerge, but for all of the social service agencies that we’re dealing with,” Tucson City Councilmember Steve Kozachik said.

The City of Tucson and Pima County Board of Supervisors passed resolutions that each government body would provide $1 million towards an expansion for Emerge although officials with the nonprofit are remaining tight-lipped about details.

“Their clients are vulnerable to the abusive partner finding them and continuing the abuse, so they’re very protective of their client’s privacy,” Kozachik explained. “The other thing is that there are children involved.”

Emerge officials said they would speak publicly about the expansion as soon as plans have been finalized. In the meantime, Bianco asks everyone to participate in Domestic Violence Awareness Month throughout October.

Emerge is hosting an educational campaign on domestic violence prevention in October along with charity drives to engage the community in helping survivors.

“Prevention efforts can really look like educating yourself about the root causes of domestic abuse, not just the warning signs and the red flags,” Bianco explained. “We really want people to dig into understanding why abuse even exists in our culture, and in our community.”

Emerge has made it its mission in the last few years to train employees on normal job duties while also doing extra training on racial disparities and social dynamics that may affect their clients.

“Since 2015, we’ve really gone down the journey of becoming an anti-racist organization,” Bianco said.

Emerge is also uploading videos to its website showcasing the personal experiences of employees who continued to provide services to clients during the pandemic. Bianco said the nonprofit is extremely grateful to the employees who came in every day trying to find services for their clients during the pandemic.

Tucson residents can help out by donating supplies at the nonprofit’s Stuff-the-Bus event. The public is asked to donate new items that would help a survivor and their children start over at a new home (think toiletries, clothes, reusable water bottles, kitchen supplies and linens). A full list of possible items is available on the Emerge website under the DVAM tab.

Northwest residents can bring items to Stuff-the-Bus at the Oro Valley Walmart, 2150 E. Tangerine Road, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct 29. Emerge is also hosting a virtual Stuff-the-Bus through their website. Amazon Smile allows you to buy a product from their wish list and send it to Emerge’s administration office.

You can also show your support for domestic violence survivors by wearing purple on Oct. 21. Bianco said the event is a symbolic acknowledgment of domestic violence as an issue that does not just affect women. People of all demographics can experience domestic violence.

“The most important part about October is recognizing that domestic abuse can happen to anyone,” Bianco said. “It is not one group of people who experience it and so, in order for us as a community to end abuse we all have to participate in understanding how we can take a stand and or take an action to help.


Visit the Emerge website for information on domestic violence prevention and how you can participate in Domestic Violence Awareness Month at emergecenter.org.

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