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As call volume increases, Maine's domestic violence resource centers are losing volunteers

Domestic Violence Hotline
Eric Gay
/
AP
An advocate works in the digital services area at the National Domestic Violence Hotline center's new facility, Monday, June 27, 2016, in Austin, Texas.

Domestic violence resource centers across Maine have seen a sharp rise in requests for help over the past two years. At the same time, they've been seeing a drop in the number of volunteers they rely on to answer those calls.

Last year, Maine's resource centers saw a 22% decline in the number of volunteers working regional helplines.

Domestic violence advocates say they can't pinpoint one reason for the loss of volunteers. But the demand for support has increased, especially since the pandemic, said Regina Rooney, education and communications director for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

Maine's domestic violence resource centers saw a 13% increase in calls last year, on top of a 24% spike in call volume the year before, Rooney said.

"For people working on the helpline, taking calls from survivors who are in crisis, who are trying to find a place to be, or some kind of housing or some kind of economic stability, [etc.], all of our community systems have been not working as well as we need them to, because of the pandemic," she said. "It's made helpline work even harder."

Caring Unlimited, the domestic violence resource center that serves York County, is relying on 15 active volunteers to cover more than 100 eight- hour shifts a month.

Emily Gormley, the organization's director of development and community engagement, said Caring Unlimited could use 15 or even 30 more volunteers.

Full-time staff are supplementing volunteers on the helpline, but she's not sure how long that can continue.

"It's quite a tax on staff and on the organization to be kind of managing this program that way," Gormley said. "But it's really one of our most critical programs. It's a lot of people's first point of connection with our organization."

Caring Unlimited volunteers field, on average, about 300 calls a month from survivors looking for help. Like the rest of the state, that number is higher today than it was before the pandemic, Gormley said.

"What people are experiencing has become higher risk, more dangerous situations and more complex," she said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse or violence, call 1-866-834-HELP to reach a local advocate.