In 2020, more than 1,000 survivors of domestic violence were turned away from shelters in Chicago. Many ultimately were forced to choose between returning to live with their abuser or continuing to search for housing without knowing when or where they would find it.
This tragedy is the culmination of a pattern of government inaction — a pattern we have a unique opportunity to change if our city leaders step up.
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Domestic violence was a critical problem before the pandemic. Indeed, in her 2020 violence prevention plan, Mayor Lori Lightfoot rightly spotlighted the need to better address domestic violence incidents, in part by tackling gun violence and domestic violence in a coordinated way. Once COVID-19 arrived, however, we saw an unprecedented number of domestic violence survivors reaching out for help. In 2020, the number of individuals who contacted the Illinois Domestic Violence Hotline via text message increased by 2,738%. Domestic violence-related homicides in Chicago increased by 121%.
Unfortunately, we haven’t fared any better in 2021, with a 27% increase in fatal shootings and an alarming 97% increase in non-fatal shootings related to domestic violence. Moreover, domestic violence disproportionately impacts Black, Brown and immigrant communities — the same groups that have borne the brunt of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Thankfully, a coalition of domestic violence service organizations named The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence has crafted a set of policy prescriptions that merit the attention and action of the city.
The Network proposes that City Hall use $50 million of the $1.9 billion it will receive through the federal American Rescue Plan Act to help domestic violence victims. Funds could be spent on community-based housing for those fleeing violence; legal services for individuals seeking orders of protection; counseling services for both victims and aggressors; and prevention education for students, parents and school staff. A mere three additional therapists could serve a waitlist of 100 survivors of domestic violence. And a team of as few as six attorneys and three paralegal could serve 450 survivors seeking legal protection from their abusers.
In passing ARPA, Congress and President Joe Biden intended that these funds be used for more than paying down debt and filling budget gaps. They recognized that these once-in-a-generation funds could help millions of Americans recover from the pandemic while also giving communities a greater capacity to protect and nurture residents than before COVID arrived.
For decades, Chicago’s City Hall has sat on the sidelines regarding domestic violence. We can change that right now.
Ald. Matt Martin (47th), Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) and Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st)
President Joe Biden and Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh made the right call in ordering vaccine mandates for employers.
If the holdouts won’t get vaccinated to protect themselves, to protect others, to get into concerts or to get free Krispy Kreme doughnuts, maybe they’ll finally do it to collect their paychecks.
Benjamin Recchie, Little Italy