Co-written with Evan Schmidt, CEO Valley Vision, and Co-Chair of the Board of Directors, Empower Yolo
The pandemic has impacted every facet of life over the last year. With people increasingly at home and more isolated, domestic violence and substance use, as well as depression and anxiety are peaking in communities across the nation and our region.
To understand how COVID-19 has impacted our region over the last year, Valley Vision and Capital Public Radio in partnership with the Institute of Social Research at Sacramento State, have conducted The COVID-19 Resilience Poll. This is a public opinion poll that tracks experiences and perspectives on the impacts of COVID-19 in the Capital region, including Yolo, Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Yuba and Sutter counties, and is both demographically representative and statistically significant. The poll shows that physical safety at home and mental health effects of COVID-19 are significant and impact people of color, younger people, and women most significantly.
“In Yolo County Empower Yolo continues to support an influx of clients with increased domestic violence cases; clients needing help with basic necessities as well as emergency relief support to help pay rent, utilities and childcare. Over the past year, Empower Yolo’s restraining order clinic has been busier than ever. Many clients are struggling to provide basic needs for their families such as food, clothing and the ability to pay their rent and utilities. The need for childcare so that clients can go back to work is a real problem for working parents. We continue to work with community partners like the Yolo Food Bank to meet the huge rise in food distribution for vulnerable families, seniors, and the immigrant community,” says Lynnette Irlmeier, Executive Director, Empower Yolo.
Overall, a quarter of respondents (25%) from the poll are concerned about being physically or emotionally harmed by other members of their household. About a third of respondents are concerned about alcohol or substance abuse (34%) and the well being of children in the household (32%). As many as 63% of respondents reported feeling depressed at least once in the last seven days, and 82% of respondents reported feeling anxious at least once in the last seven days. These health impacts also continue to reflect different experiences in different communities.
Communities that were already on the margins and struggling due to systemic racism and oppression are hit the hardest due to increased daily stressors like a loss of job, homeschooling, or the inability to provide basic needs like food, clothing or paying rent.
“Most of the clients I work with every day are strong individuals,” says Josie Enriquez, Program Manager, Empower Yolo. “One of our clients was working in a restaurant and was laid off due to COVID. She spent all of her savings, but refused to get help because she is undocumented. Her brother has been helping her pay rent. She is also a survivor of domestic violence,” says Enriquez.
Some families have to rely on older children to help out with childcare when they have to work. “Low-income children are the ones suffering the most; many of the older children need to attend school, but they are also taking care of their siblings,” says, Enriquez.
Families that become sick need extra support to get back on their feet. “One of my clients had COVID and he had to quarantine. The entire family had COVID except for their 5-year-old daughter who was asymptomatic. His daughter was not able to participate in distance learning until we connected him with the local school district for support. He ended up staying home for about two months because the symptoms were severe. He had heart problems and anxiety on top of the regular COVID symptoms. Because he was home during this time to recover, he was able to support his daughter in virtual learning and she made progress. Empower Yolo also referred the family to STEAC, and is assisting the family in completing their tax return,” says Enriquez.
Women (89%) and younger respondents aged 18-38 years old (93%) more frequently reported anxiety and depression or hopelessness (71% of women, 82% of younger respondents) in the prior seven days.
Empower Yolo’s counseling department has been very busy throughout the pandemic trying to support clients’ various mental health needs. “Therapists are reporting seeing more clients than ever before; we are seeing a much higher rate of clients being depressed or anxious as a result of the pandemic,” says Amy Groven, Director of Clinical Programs, Empower Yolo. Depression and anxiety seem to impede many clients on things like getting a job so they can escape abuse. Because of quarantine clients are more isolated. “Clients are not reaching out to the support they do have as much, and many are experiencing feelings of being helpless or very lonely as they go through the pandemic trying to navigate a new life for themselves,” says Groven.
Respondents’ answers to open-ended questions further demonstrate the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll. When asked how it is impacting them the most, 49% of respondents felt it most acutely in their routines, including a loss of social connection with community or church, followed by travel cancellations, loss of entertainment, and loss of normal services.
“We have seen younger people coming in with depression and anxiety, which is nothing new. Most of our clients have those diagnoses because of what they have endured. The pandemic has only compounded these issues, making it difficult for youths to socialize and build self esteem because there aren’t those normal things to do that are regularly built into their lives (like school, sports, scouts, etc.) that they gain mastery through. Now we are seeing youths who have endured trauma and have lost those things to cling to that inspire hope and resiliency,” says Groven.
Empower Yolo network of services:
Throughout the pandemic Empower Yolo leadership and staff have had to work above and beyond to serve the growing and shifting needs of clients and the community. They have had to become more flexible with scheduling reduced staff to meet coverage; change and add job duties; keep apprised on changing funding/grant requirements for emergency relief; move as many programs and services online; and ensure proper social distancing and safety precautions for clients and staff, all while taking care of their own families, providing distance learning support for their children, and attending to their own physical and mental health concerns.
Empower Yolo continues to provide comprehensive services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and child abuse. Core services include a 24-hour crisis line, emergency shelter, legal advocacy, and counseling. Legal services include restraining order clinics throughout Yolo County, family legal clinic, and child support appointments. Our emergency safe house continues to support survivors of abuse and their families and pets including running 2 virtual classrooms for the children residing at the shelter. Throughout the pandemic shelter staff have worked through the challenges of keeping clients and their families safe and healthy while living in a communal living situation.
Our client navigators have been working tirelessly to support clients on a daily basis. Many clients are struggling with providing basic needs for their families such as food, clothing, diapers and filling prescriptions. Our clothing closet remains one of our largest services and helps provide clothing for many clients. We are grateful to so many community members who have donated clothing. Thanks to local funding and private donors we have been able to help many clients cover rent, utilities and childcare and avoid eviction. Client navigators also continue to support clients at high risk for COVID who are staying at local motels through Project Room Key. Services for homeless clients include housing, food, clothing, and hygiene items.
Our After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) programs have been providing local teens academic support with online school, and support with many social/emotional issues teens are struggling with. They are currently preparing for Woodland schools to reopen in person in April. Our Resource Centers in Davis and Knights Landing continue to be busy supporting clients by providing health information and resources, food distribution, health care enrollment, immigration support, and filing taxes during tax season. They have also become sites for COVID testing when needed. Many of the clients served at the resource centers are low-income, seniors, farmworkers, immigrants and/or undocumented.
Concerned Advocates Responding to Emergencies (CARE) advocates are still responding 24/7 to police stations and hospitals in Yolo County to support sexual assault survivors.
To meet the growing mental health needs of our community therapists have been meeting with clients online and in person due to the sensitive and confidential nature of their cases. They are also providing several online support groups such as domestic violence (dv) support group in English and Spanish, a sexual assault support group for teens, and a self-care group. The self-care group started early on in the pandemic and is open again. The group aims to decrease isolation, increase positive coping skills and help participants develop sustainable, self-care plans.
“Our noon DV group was pretty popular at the start of the pandemic, but as the pandemic goes on, the less it was being attended. This could be because people started getting jobs or because with children doing home schooling and potential abusers being home, it is hard to talk freely. The Thriving Teens group for sexual assault survivors had a lot of interest, but many parents did not want their kids having to do another zoom meeting,” says Groven. They are hoping the group will be better attended when they can meet in person again.
Call to action/where do we go from here?
Our clients continue to face many challenges at this time. Local grant funding from Yolo Community Foundation, Travis Credit Union, Sierra Health, United Way and the Josey Starkweather fund have helped us support many basic needs and emergency relief for families in need. We continue to need the community’s support. As we navigate through different challenges every week we are also improving and reimaging better ways to support clients. The community can continue to support our efforts in many ways: 1) make a donation to support unfunded programs and services any time at: empoweryolo.org; 2) become a sponsor or corporate partner for one of our awareness months; 3) donate your stimulus check if you don’t need it and want to help families in need; 4) donate an appreciated asset (you’ll also receive the tax benefit); 5) make a planned gift; 6) participate in one of our monthly donation drives; 7) create a peer-to-peer fundraiser for Empower Yolo to support a need during the Big Day of Giving this year on May 6, 2021; 8) join our email list at: empoweryolo.org; 9) follow us on Facebook @empoweryolo, Instagram and Twitter @empower_yolo; like and share what’s happening at Empower Yolo.
Together we can move forward to help rebuild our community to be safer, healthier and more resilient. Help Empower Yolo support clients recovering from the setbacks of COVID-19, but even better, and in line with the purpose of Valley Vision’s COVID-19 Resilience Poll, help us reimagine and build a more equitable, sustainable, and just future for our clients and their families.
For more information about Valley Vision visit: valleyvision.org.
Evan Schmidt is the CEO of Valley Vision, and the Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Empower Yolo.