EPEC adapts to offer help to victims of violence in current times

Like all public service agencies, Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center (EPEC), is having to adjust the ways they help clients in the times of “Stay at Home” orders and no in-person meetings.

Their services are in even greater demand now, said Executive Director Katie Spriggs. EPEC works with survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and stalking.

EPEC operates a shelter for clients in Martinsburg and has offices in each of the three counties of the Eastern Panhandle.

“Quarantine is difficult task for everyone. We’re self-isolating because it’s how to stay safe, but here at EPEC, we understand that home is not a safe place for everyone. EPEC has seen a spike in calls from victims of interpersonal violence,” Spriggs said.

“Before this, maybe we could get two calls per days to shelter and one would wind up in the shelter. Now we get an average of six calls per day seeking shelter,” she said.

Clients are now being offered community-based housing when it’s needed instead of space at the shelter, which has been limited by new rules, EPEC officials said.

Advocates in each county then coordinate food assistance and transportation, child care and other help that’s needed.

Nicole Roehm, Morgan County’s advocate, said traditionally she has been able to pick up clients and transport them to shelter, or work or court hearings. That’s now less common because of unknowns – the higher likelihood that an abuser is still at a residence, or the question of whether members of the household have been exposed to COVID-19.

Outreach staff in Morgan, Jefferson, and Berkeley counties are not in offices, but still serving clients, managing cases, offering counseling and running support groups that survivors can reach through their phone or video apps.

“We’re trying to get very, very creative about how we’re communicating,” said Roehm.

“It’s very important to us that survivors know that we are still here, the agency is 24/7 as it has always been, and even though providing advocacy services from afar is not ideal, we are committed to continuing to provide them,” she said.

The increase in calls to the EPEC hotline is not a surprise for advocates.

“This is likely due to the exasperated stressors of being in quarantine and the huge rise in unemployment,” Spriggs said. “Quarantine certainly does not cause domestic violence, but it can cause a rise in lethal behaviors and an increase in abusive tactics.”

Anyone who needs the services of EPEC can reach their 24/7 helpline at 304-263-8292.

The Morgan County office can be reached at 304-258-1078. More information, services and links can be found at https://epecwv.org/.

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