by Kassie Hawkins, Manager of LGBTQ+ Programs, Sojourner House
COVID has been difficult for everyone, but especially LGBTQ+ victims of abuse, many of whom were forced to shelter in places with abusive and unaffirming partners or parents. On top of already existing barriers such as fear of being outed, losing one’s chosen family and support system, and facing discrimination from law enforcement and service providers, for LGBTQ+ folks experiencing abuse, the COVID-19 pandemic left many feeling unsafe and hopeless.
Founded in 1976, Sojourner House is a comprehensive Rhode Island-based nonprofit organization that provides emergency shelter, supportive housing, and trauma-informed empowering services to victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. Just like many community-based organizations throughout the world, Sojourner House quickly adapted to the pandemic and changed the way they were doing things in order to reach some of our most vulnerable, including survivors who identify as LGBTQ+.
Sojourner House began answering its crisis hotline 24/7, and launched a texting line for victims to connect with an advocate in a safer way. Additionally, all services were provided virtually, including support groups for LGBTQ+ and male-identifying survivors, and a new support group was created specifically for folks who identity as trans or gender non-conforming. Free at-home HIV tests were made available through an online request form (https://www.sojournerri.org/rapid-hiv-testing/), and then mailed directly to clients to test themselves safely at home. Sojourner House staff also became certified in 2020 to administer Hep C testing, expanding their sexual health advocacy and support for victims of abuse at a critical time.
In addition to expanded services for LGBTQ+ survivors, Sojourner House adjusted to ensure that all victims of abuse throughout Rhode Island had access to what they needed to stay safe throughout the pandemic. They answered 40% more crisis calls, gave out 150% more basic-necessity supplies, provided 100% more sessions of service, and served 23% more clients in 2020 than they did in 2019, indicating that community-based services were vital during the pandemic.
Most astonishing was the amount of rental and utility assistance Sojourner House paid out directly to survivors. In a normal year, Sojourner House pays approximately $26,000 for rental and utility assistance for victims. Since the pandemic began, they have paid out over $500,000 to victims so they could stay safe and not have to make the difficult choice of returning to an abuser or becoming homeless. Although the pandemic is not over and the future is still uncertain, Sojourner House stays committed to ensuring that LGBTQ+ survivors of abuse feel safe and regain hope. For information on Sojourner House’s services or our LGBTQ+ program, please call our Drop In Center at (401) 861-6191, or visit our website at www.SojournerRI.org. For crisis support, please call our 24 hour hotline at (401) 765-3232.