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Domestic violence shelters find ways to social distance amid pandemic

Some DV shelters reduced bed space during COVID-19
Posted at 5:37 AM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 05:37:09-04

Local domestic violence shelters are finding ways to social distance during the COVID-19 pandemic while still providing help for those who need it.

Laurie Herring, the Executive Director of Mary Martha House in Hillsborough County, will tell you it's been tricky to run a tight-quartered domestic violence shelter amid a pandemic.

"It's been a challenge," Herring said. "We've been able to do it, but it hasn't been easy at all."

The domestic violence shelter has two existing buildings that house women and their children when they seek refuge from abusive relationships.

Mary Martha is also set to open a new, larger shelter to meet the growing need for bed space. But that won't be open until November at the earliest.

When COVID-19 hit in March, their two existing shelters had to quickly figure out how to house their clients safely while social distancing.

"The first thing they do when they come in, they hand sanitize, washing their hands. We have disinfectant everywhere. Our rooms are disinfected constantly. We have all kinds of cleaners and things that are appropriately needed," says Herring.

Herring says there were some concerns from victims who wanted help and needed a room, but they were concerned about the center's COVID safety. She says their protocols quickly put them at ease.

"We keep masks available for them, especially children, because they lose them all the time. But also so they have clean and fresh masks daily," added Herring.

The Tampa Bay area's largest DV shelter, The Spring of Tampa Bay, tells ABC Action News their safety protocols are similar to Mary Martha House with two disinfection rounds per day.

They have staggered meal times in the cafeteria to allow for social distancing. They have also cut their available bed space nearly in half to make sure everyone gets their own room and bathroom.

Mindy Murphy, CEO of The Spring, also says their clients can meet with their advocates over Zoom or in their open-air courtyard.