PHOENIX — Emergency shelters are full in Maricopa County and it's an alarming problem for domestic violence survivors. Those needing an immediate escape from a dangerous situation are often faced with no place to go.
"Even when my life was threatened, I was like, 'where am I going to go? What am I going to do?'" says a domestic violence survivor.
There is no quick solution to surviving domestic violence.
"The shelters that I called, they said, 'we don't have any beds, call us at 6:00 every morning because people are in and out of here.' It's frustrating, it's scary, it's upsetting, and I wish people knew that the cops don't just whisk you away to a new life," says one survivor.
A domestic violence survivor spoke with ABC15 about how she tried for months to get help in Maricopa County. She eventually moved out of the state.
"I called my family and said, 'look, I just, I need to come back for a little while just to take a breath,'" says one survivor.
There are countless stories just like this.
"Thank you for calling SAFE DV Services. How can I help you?" says a case manager at A New Leaf. The 24/7 domestic violence hotline for Maricopa County receives anywhere from 900 to 1,400 calls a month.
"At the moment, the shelters are reporting as full. We are going to have another update later on in a few hours so, you can continue to call back to check on that," says the case manager.
But, sometimes, calling back isn't an option.
"My husband was home then and if I sneak off to make a phone call, he's going to get... that's a signal. I didn't know what was going to happen," says the survivor.
There are eight domestic violence emergency shelters serving Maricopa County - all of them full. There was a total of 420 beds available prior to the pandemic. Due to social distancing, that number decreased by nearly 35% and we're learning that number likely won't be going back up.
"We realized during the pandemic that when we did have to limit that space, it actually created sometimes a better environment," says Dana Martinez, the director of domestic violence programs at A New Leaf.
The low number of beds isn't the only issue people are experiencing.
"People were staying longer in shelter, and it was taking longer to turn over because of those really rapidly increasing rental rates," says Martinez.
With no waitlists available for a bed, case managers answer the line and screen every client based on their situation and need.
"They'd be like, 'well, are you safe right now?' Well, I'm not. Yeah, he's not here but should I just sit back because he's coming back at the end of the day.' You know, every time I heard the key in the lock, I would just freeze out of fear. Like, what, what's going to happen tonight?" says a survivor.
Domestic violence advocates say on average, it is taking about two weeks for someone to get into a shelter.
"It's like prioritizing who needs help and who doesn't," says Marina Jessop, community-based program manager, Chicanos Por La Causa De Colores.
Marina Jessop is with De Colores, a shelter serving Spanish-speaking survivors. She knows what clients are facing first-hand.
"I've sat on the phone for hours with someone, to find a place for them, just in desperation. They have children and they're waiting on me, pleading and it's the end of the day. All the agencies are closing down for the day and she's just sitting in a park with her kids, and I can't get a bed for her," says Jessop.
There are overflow options like hotel and motel vouchers.
If you are in need of help, you should call 844-SAFE-DVS for a list of resources.
Women aren't the only group in need of assistance
Domestic violence survivors needing a shelter bed are often women but advocates say more men are coming forward as well.
"They need somewhere safe and permanent to go. Not the streets, you know, not their car... shelter in many cases, yeah, but safe housing - absolutely," says Martinez.
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence.
"I stayed there for a year and six months. It was hard. At night, I would cry. Why did I come?" says an elderly male survivor wishing to remain anonymous.
With emergency shelters in Maricopa County consistently full, this man would spend morning until evening at a local park to avoid abuse by his son.
"He was abrasive toward me, and he would get mad for everything," he says.
A New Leaf says, of the calls its 24/7 domestic violence hotline in Maricopa County receives, 15 to 20% of those calls are from men.
Domestic violence advocates, like Marina Jessop, are seeing an increase but they don't believe it accurately depicts the scope of the situation.
"l feel like the numbers with men are skewed because I still don't feel like a lot of men are coming forward and speaking out about their abuse. Because of the stigma on masculinity and 'machismo,' you know… it's hard to admit, especially for a male, that they are being abused," says Jessop.
We're told most shelters have the ability to cater to male survivors, in a separate area from women and children. Jessop says the more education and community-based programs there are, the more people will be okay with speaking out.
"We see, what we call, victim-blaming… people blaming the victim as to why they are being abused. Why are they staying with this person? Why are they allowing this person to continually abuse them? Well, I think the question that we should be asking is, why is that person abusing? You know, why aren't we asking that question instead of blaming the victim?" says Jessop.
She hopes others will shift their thinking and be willing to listen. Luckily, in this man's case, someone did and he was able to get the help he needed.
"Once arriving here, I've felt like windows have been opened and all of the bad that I felt, left me," he says.
He tells us he now has his life back.
Some resources include:
- Shelter Line (Maricopa County Only): 480-890-3039
- Sexual Assault Hotline RAINN: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
- 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233, 800-787-3224 (TTD)
- AZ Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence: 602-279-2900, 800-782-6400, 602-279-7270
- Domestic Violence Program Information: 602-542-4446