When we think of basic necessities, we often consider food, water, shelter and clothing. 

Add a phone to that list. In situations where a phone is the only connection to a support system, it is necessary.

Since the coronavirus stay-at-home order began, domestic violence reports to the Chicago Police Department increased by 18%. For survivors of interpersonal violence, staying at home means being at risk. In these cases, a phone call to a crisis hotline can be the only means to develop a safety plan.

That is why Mujeres Latinas en Acción continues to be available to survivors and their families. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and we’d like to honor Mujeres as one of the lead organizations in the Chicago and suburban region for domestic violence and sexual assault support.

Many community residents recognize Mujeres Latinas en Acción as a one-stop-shop for counseling and crisis recovery, where they can walk through their doors and be welcomed immediately. This support hasn’t changed – they’re only a call away.

“In the first couple of weeks, there were so many more calls than we were used to,” said Fanny Cano, Mujeres Latinas en Acción Communications and Development Manager. “It was a combination of [domestic violence] calls and the community seeking basic needs and resources. They knew they could turn to us and find what they needed.”

To help organizations like Mujeres, United Way of Metro Chicago and The Chicago Community Trust, in partnership with the City of Chicago, launched the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. Mujeres and more than 140 other nonprofit and community organizations have received grants to serve their neighbors during this difficult time.

“The [Response Fund] has a lot to do with some of that additional support to families who we found to be at greater need,” explained Cano. “When we are talking about survivors, our clients are oftentimes single mothers, and collecting data, we know that a large portion of those that we are serving are experiencing job loss, as well.”

In fact, Mujeres reached out to the 1,500 survivors they served last year, and out of those who responded to the survey, 85% reported experiencing job loss due to COVID-19. They also recognize that because many of their participants are immigrants, they will not receive unemployment benefits or a check through the federal stimulus package.

Cano shared the story of one survivor who recently broke the cycle of violence. This woman moved out of an abusive household to live with her daughter. Having earned a job at a restaurant, things were starting to look up for her – until the pandemic hit and businesses closed.

She no longer had the income to pay her phone bill, which was her weekly connection to counseling sessions with Mujeres Latinas en Acción.

Thanks to a grant from the Response Fund, Mujeres was able to provide funding for this survivor to continue paying her phone bill. They are doing the same for other clients by identifying immediate needs and connecting people to other agencies that can offer ongoing financial assistance.

“Within a day of receiving the funds, [Mujeres] was able to identify who and how they were going to distribute the funds, and that just speaks to the need that they’re seeing firsthand.” Cano described.

Former Mujeres volunteers and interns have even come back to help with remote services, including operating the crisis hotline. Their hotline and one-on-one counseling sessions are still accessible through phone and virtual communication.

They also had to pivot their Sexual Assault Awareness campaign this month to social media. Nonetheless, they have been able to engage with their neighbors through virtual cafes, “Café en Acción Virtual”, on Facebook to discuss how the community can support sexual assault survivors. Included in their campaign is a virtual gallery of artwork from their survivors called “Healing Through Art”.

“Our message continues to be they are not alone,” Cano remarked. “As hard as it is, it’s been hard for all of us. And it’s our resilience that will push us through.”

If you or a loved one are facing dangerous circumstances at home, you can contact Mujeres Latinas en Acción crisis hotline at (312) 738-5358. For additional services in your area, visit our Service Locator tool.

You can help survivors access the help they need by donating to the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. Each donation will better equip our neighbors to endure this crisis.

This blog post was written by Courtney Morrison, a United Way of Metro Chicago AmeriCorps member.