Center for Domestic Peace (C4DP) could not have imagined the unprecedented rapid change soon to come when several donors indicated discomfort with attending our donor appreciation event on March 4, 2020. The outbreak of a virus in China had already spread to Italy and Spain. Within days, C4DP began scenario planning, reviewed our Emergency Preparedness Plan, and added additional cautionary steps to our protocols for direct service work. To the best of our ability, our goal was to be prepared to face whatever was ahead.

Two weeks later, shelter-in-place (SIP) orders were enacted in Marin County. Overnight, C4DP’s 55-person workforce began pivoting to new ways of working, both remotely and with reduced direct contact with shelter and transitional housing residents.

As a 24/7 crisis intervention and emergency shelter provider, C4DP’s number one priority was to maintain critical survivor-safety responses via the shelter, transitional housing, and C4DP’s 24/7 English/Spanish hotline. Establishing web-based legal advocacy services and individual therapy support followed next.

With 12 adults and children at the shelter the first day of SIP, 70 moms and kid in transitional housing, and hundreds of legal advocacy participants needing support to navigate the criminal justice system, C4DP witnessed firsthand how SIP brought added fear for victims already navigating complex situations. While our response to COVID may sound like what other nonprofits faced, our pivoting required coordination with multiple systems and institutions also undergoing their own rapid change process.

Without access to the court, initially closed due to SIP, how would a temporary restraining order slated to expire two days be extended? How would a pending custody arrangement be resolved so that the survivor could have her children returned? How would children in transitional housing participate in remote learning with no income to buy a laptop? How would a guest at shelter find permanent housing with SIP in place?

Social distancing was impossible to maintain in a group setting, so all C4DP group services were put on hold, including our programs for those who abuse. We have since transitioned these services to remote options, including our “In This Together” therapy program for children and their non-abusing parent and individual therapy so families can maintain a safety line during SIP. With on-site youth prevention work at Marin high schools and colleges halted, C4DP began online meetings for C4DP’s Marin Against Youth Abuse (MAYA) youth leaders so they could stay connected with their peers to strategize about how to help young people in unhealthy relationships during COVID.

Through our various connections with survivors, the added risk SIP presented soon became apparent. Lack of privacy at home made it difficult to call for help. Loss of employment and the SIP order drastically reduced options for victims to leave violent relationships. And COVID itself became a new weapon for an abuser to control a partner by refusing to return children to the victim’s home or threatening to infect someone if their demands were not met.

Through it all, we have discovered much about who we are as an organization. COVID stress-tested us to our core and revealed our pre-existing strengths: responsive, adaptable, nimble, survivor focused and emergency responders extraordinaire!

It also revealed another natural asset – we are relationship based. Existing strong relationships with 12 Bay Area sister domestic violence organizations enabled C4DP to quickly establish an emergency shared learning and resource exchange with others facing similar organizational challenges. Existing strong relationships facilitated immediate communication and problem-solving with our domestic violence liaisons in law enforcement, the courts, and the district attorney’s office. Relationships with donors saw us through the financial gap resulting from cancellation of our annual Mother’s Day Luncheon in May.

Regretfully, the end of C4DP’s COVID journey is not in immediate sight. Our administrative site at A Street in San Rafael remains closed to the public. However, we remain on stand-by to re-open when it is safe to do so.

In the end, C4DP has solidified our knowledge that “Domestic violence doesn’t stop in a crisis, and neither do we” is more than a slogan. It’s who we are!

Donna Garske
Executive Director