Shelters: Domestic violence calls rise in Metro Detroit

Leah Borst
Special to The Detroit News

Domestic violence calls are up in Wayne and Oakland counties — spurred in part, shelter coordinators say, by media coverage of high-profile local and national abuse cases.

Calls by abused women were up in the first half of this year by 20 percent in Oakland County. Shelter stays and crisis calls are climbing yearly in Wayne County, too; and statewide, domestic violence calls are rising.

In the Metro area, only Macomb County has not recorded a spike in calls.

Women’s advocates say the recent increases seem to be a result of national media attention around cases such as football player Ray Rice, who knocked out his fiancee in an elevator in 2014, and local incidents such as the Eastpointe father who strangled his wife and two children to death with a computer cord.

According to the shelters, increasing calls are also typical in summer, when it’s easier for women to move their children out of the family home without disrupting their school schedules.

“It’s hard for us to know why there is an increase in calls (this year), but the media attention may contribute,” said Jocelyn Clarke of HAVEN, Oakland County’s program for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. “It is usually a good indicator that we’ll get more calls.”

Despite an increase in calls to hotlines and shelters, domestic violence criminal cases do not appear to be increasing.

In 2014, about 91,000 incidents of domestic violence crime were reported to authorities, according to the Michigan Incident Crime Reporting, compared to roughly 93,000 in 2013 and 94,000 in 2012.

Macomb County had 7,150 reports of domestic violence in 2014, compared to about 7,500 in each of the two years prior, according to MICR.

Similarly, Oakland County recorded roughly 6,700 domestic violence cases in 2014, and more than 7,000 in both 2013 and 2012. Wayne County has recorded more than 26,000 cases annually for the past three years.

Patricia Maceroni, president of Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, said increased calls to hotlines and shelters don’t necessarily correlate to actual crime reports.

“If there is a dispute at a house and police are called, the criminal process will always start,” she said.

HAVEN, Oakland County’s program for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, has recorded about a 20 percent monthly increase in domestic violence calls this year over last year.

In 2013, the organization received 7,872 calls. Last year, it had 10,231 calls — about a 23 percent increase. The rise in calls continued into 2015, as 955 calls were logged in June, compared to 823 in June 2014.

“The number of people asking for shelter has seemed to increase,” said Clarke, HAVEN’s Crisis and Support Line supervisor. “That fact that we’ve seen the increase makes us anticipate that more calls will come in the following months.”

First Step, a Wayne County organization that provides services to domestic and sexual violence victims, noted a similar increase in crisis calls, as well as a rise in victims staying at the shelter.

“We have seen a slight increase in crisis calls from two years ago to last year,” CEO Amy Youngquist said. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, she said, “we had about 18,000 calls. Stays at the shelter are also increasing. At times, we’ve had to house people in (the center’s) family room, temporarily.”

YWCA Interim House, a Metro Detroit shelter and domestic violence hotline, noticed an increase in domestic violence calls after the Rice incident, as women may feel more emboldened to report abuse.

“We usually receive about 900 calls a month, but it has increased after the Rice report to about 1,100 calls a month,” YWCA Interim House Program Manager Sandra Jones-Kariem said. “We have 67 beds at our facility with a 90-day stay, and we are usually always at capacity. But, we always try to refer (to other shelters)” when Interim House is full.

An uptick in crisis calls

Domestic violence and sexual assault centers across Michigan appear to be noticing a similar increase in the need for services, according to the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“The coalition is hearing from our members across the state that there is a little more than a 9 percent increase in domestic violence crisis calls (from the previous fiscal year),” Executive Policy Director Kathy Hagenian said. “Certainly, an increase in survivors reaching out means it’s critical for us to have the support to meet those needs.

“When we look at national and statewide surveys, we don’t see anything that shouts out that there is an increase in domestic violence.

But, when a program like HAVEN is saying they are seeing an uptick in crisis calls, that number being up is significant. It certainly underlines the need to make sure the resources will be there.”

Shelter usually near capacity

First Step also is noting an increase in shelter stays.

Youngquist said the 45- to 50-bed shelter is almost always at capacity. She said the shelter recorded more than 15,500 overnight stays in 2014 compared to 13,700 in 2013 — about a 12 percent increase.

“Sometimes, we’ve had to turn folks away, but we never give up on them until they are housed,” she said. “We call other shelters or help find alternative places. If everywhere is full, then we will pay for a hotel room.”

Despite a statewide increase in domestic violence calls, not all service centers are seeing an increase in need. Macomb County’s Turning Point averages about 12,000 calls each year and has for the past several years.

“Sometimes there are spikes and dips, but it usually always averages out,” CEO Suzanne Coats said. “Some months we receive higher calls because kids are out of school, but we have been steady around 12,000 calls each year.”

Yet, Coats said, Turning Point’s 50-bed shelter is almost always full.

Counseling programs busier

Shelters also have seen a steady request for services in addition to emergency housing — such as counseling.

“Our counseling services for both domestic violence and sexual assault have seemed to be a lot busier,” Clarke said.

In 2014, HAVEN raised about $3.33 million and spent just under that, according to it’s 2013-14 annual report.

First Step, which had about $2.4 million in revenue and roughly $2.3 million in expenses in fiscal year 2012-13, is allowing women with children to stay longer.

“We used to provide women and children a 30-day stay, but we are now offering three- to 12-months’ of stay (since we opened the new shelter four years ago), which gives them more time to get on their feet,” Youngquist said.

“We also have 12 transitional housing units in the community, where we subsidize rent and utilities, for more independently living.”

First Step recently opened a healing garden and outdoor fitness center in Wayne, to provide recreation and aid to recovering families. It’s the first of its kind in the country, according to First Step.

“It’s making our services even more comprehensive,” Associate Director Theresa Bizoe said. “Emotional and spiritual healing is also a part of the process.”

Leah Borst is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

If you need help

Some Metro area crisis hotlines that are answered 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

■First Step, Wayne County: (888) 453-5900

■HAVEN, Oakland County: (877) 922-1274

■Turning Point, Macomb County: (586) 463-6990

■WYCA Interim House, Metropolitan Detroit: (313) 681-5300