Harmony House saw fewer calls during pandemic due to quarantine-related abuse

Published 9:00 am Friday, April 15, 2022

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Harmony House Executive Director Michele Bedingfield updated the LaGrange City Council Tuesday on the program’s developments over the last two years. Bedingfield was unable to give the program’s annual report in 2021 due to COVID-related restrictions.

Harmony House is a LaGrange-based domestic violence shelter and sexual assault prevention advocate that primarily assists women and children with recovery following abuse.

Bedingfield noted the program made it through the initial coronavirus pandemic “successfully” and served 150 residents in 2020 alone, though only 49 physically stayed at the shelter. Others were housed in hotels, Bedingfield noted.

However, the volume of its crisis calls volume were drastically affected.

“During COVID, our crisis calls [overall] went down,” Bedingfield said. “We were down 500-600 crisis calls a year in 2019 and 2020. Calls came back up again in 2021.”

Bedingfield said the reason for the low volume of calls in 2020 was due to potential abuse victims being unable to call while in quarantine with their abusers.

“You don’t have a way to get to your friend’s house, your neighbor’s house … there was just no way for them to call,” she said. “[They] get to work, make the call and make it quick and short. Or they have a friend or family member calling for them and saying what can [they] do to help.”

Harmony House budgets nearly $25,000 a year for its relocation services and housing assistance. In 2021, the program spent $50,000 for both those services.

“That was a lot of hotels,” Bedingfield specified. “It was for safety and finding a way to house them, so they could be safe and not exposed to COVID.”

Bedingfield said Harmony House did not have a single resident who contracted COVID, and only one had one person affected in its outreach program.

In 2021, Harmony House served 93 shelter residents and answered 942 crisis calls, over 400 more than 2020, Bedingfield said. In 2018, the program served 155 residents and 106 in 2019.

During the beginning stages of the pandemic, Harmony House also underwent several renovations to upgrade bedrooms and its kitchen and was treated for black mold and termite damage. The program receives items like towels and books through local programs like Girl Scouts and Success by Six. Those items are placed in the shelter’s rooms for newcomers.

Since opening in 2006, Harmony House has received up to 17,252 crisis calls and served 16,000 residents and 1,114 non-shelter residents, Bedingfield said.

To get help at Harmony House, call (706) 885-1525. Their services are free, confidential, and available 24/7.