October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Domestic Violence Services wants people to know the nonprofit is still going strong during the pandemic.

“We are here for people every day, 24 hours a day,” Director Kathryn Chaney said.

DVS, which provides services for Umatilla and Morrow counties, is considered an essential service and was able to operate its shelters for victims of domestic violence throughout the year. Chaney said the nonprofit has made adjustments for more social distancing and cleaning in shelters and in its offices, and offers many more virtual options for events.

“We held two online trainings since the pandemic started for our crisis line volunteers, and they were very successful,” Chaney said. “We got several new volunteers.”

The crisis line, at 800-833-1161, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round. Chaney said volunteers can talk to people about an immediate crisis, but also sometimes people also just want someone to talk to about the pain they’re experiencing, or they want to explore their options if they were to decide to leave their abuser.

“They may not feel they have the option to leave now, but we can do safety planning for if the situation escalates,” she said.

Domestic Violence Services is also running several support groups via Zoom. Some are for survivors of domestic violence, others focus on survivors of sexual abuse specifically.

There are also groups for people with family members, friends or co-workers who are experiencing domestic violence. Chaney said sometimes people struggle with watching the person they care about go through abusive situations, and they want to know how best to talk with that person about the situation without pushing them away by being judgmental.

People can also call the DVS advocacy centers in Hermiston, Pendleton, Boardman, Milton-Freewater and Heppner.

Chaney said DVS has learned a lot through the pandemic, and while it has been an adjustment doing more things virtually and over the phone, it has also been a benefit, particularly for reaching people who are more isolated in rural areas of the counties.

Chaney said the pandemic’s effects on domestic violence, particularly in the spring when people were mostly stuck at home, have been concerning to advocates. However, she said there hadn’t been a big surge in requests for shelter.

Reports on domestic violence during the spring shutdown in Oregon were a mixed bag. The East Oregonian reported the Pendleton Police Department had seen a 50% increase in calls during April 2020 compared with April 2019 for all domestic offenses, such as assault, harassment and menacing, while Hermiston Police Department reported that domestic violence calls were down 27% in April. Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston said at the time that domestic violence calls make up a small enough volume of calls for departments of Hermiston and Pendleton’s size that a small change in numbers can create a large percentage increase or decrease.

Chaney said there has been some additional state funding available due to the pandemic, including personal protective equipment available to shelters and a program that assists domestic violence victims affected by COVID-19 with their utility bills.

While DVS has canceled its usual in-person soup dinner fundraiser for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the nonprofit is holding an online auction to raise funds. Bids can be placed online between 8 a.m. on Oct. 28 and 7 p.m. on Nov. 4. They are also selling raffle tickets for a five-night stay at a resort in Palm Springs, California. To register for the auction or the raffle, visit dvs.or-org or the Domestic Violence Services, Inc. Facebook page.

On Wednesday, Oct. 21, DVS is holding an online informational presentation on the effects of domestic violence on children from 5:30-7 p.m. To register to attend, email education@dvs-or.org or call 541-276-3322.

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