Local agencies see uptick in domestic violence and evictions one month after statewide moratoriums ended

By Jin Ni

Requests for money or temporary shelter have grown locally after the state ended its rent and utility relief programs.

“We don’t want these bills to keep piling up, so we’ve been doing more outreach and telling people to spread the word about our HelpLine,” said Lindsey Perez, programs director of Rockbridge Area Relief Association (RARA.)

RARA has given out nearly $140,000 in aid since the start of the pandemic to help county residents pay bills and rent.

The local charity gets some of its funding from EnergyShare, Dominion Energy’s utility aid program.

“We’re getting more calls…as the weather gets colder and people need to heat their homes,” Perez said.

Local residents can also apply for aid from Virginia’s Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP). The program, first launched in June, assists households and landlords with rent and mortgage payments to avoid eviction or foreclosure due to COVID-19.

On Oct. 7, Gov. Ralph Northam directed an additional $12 million to the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program. The announcement came days after statewide utility shut-offs and eviction bans ended. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Gov. Ralph Northam earlier this month directed an additional $12 million to the RMRP from Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) funding due to high demand for financial help.

“A global pandemic is the worst time for Virginia families to face losing their homes,” Northam said. “We know that safe and stable housing is critical to helping people stay healthy as we continue to combat this virus.”

Landlords can now apply for payments on behalf of tenants.

Local domestic violence shelter Project Horizon has seen a rise in calls for temporary housing, which it provides at hotels or at its shelter.

“Our services have remained the same, and we’ve been providing them throughout the pandemic,” said Executive Director Judy Casteele. “The only difference now is we only shelter family members in the same room together.”

Rockbridge Area Relief Association offers utility and rent funding to individuals who call the RARA HelpLine. In this photo from the summer, interns were trained on how the HelpLine assists their community. (Photo by RARA)

Surges in cases of domestic violence have been reported both nationally and globally, as victims spend more time at home with their abusers.

“When a victim is required to stay at home without time apart, work or opportunities to visit friends, the opportunity for violence naturally arises,” Casteele said. “Add that with stresses about where money is going to come from to pay the next bill, how you’re going to find a job, and you’ve got a really volatile situation.”

To reach Project Horizon’s 24-hour crisis hotline, call 540-463-2954. For rent assistance through the RMRP, visit dhcd.virginia.gov/eligibility to see if they qualify for help. For further help with utilities or housing, call RARA at (540) 463-6642 from Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.