TimesOC Check-in: Laura’s House continues to help victims of domestic violence

Laura's House
Laura’s House, which provides resources for victims of domestic violence, has had to adjust to teleconferencing and making sure clients in their emergency shelter are safe and social distancing.
(Courtesy of Laura’s House)

Our leaders remind us that it’s important to check in with each other, even as we’re sheltering at home and practicing responsible social distancing. In this ongoing series, TimesOC checks in with small businesses and nonprofits in Orange County during the coronavirus pandemic.

What: Laura’s House

When: Founded in 1994

Where: 999 Corporate Drive, Suite 225, Ladera Ranch

Background: Laura’s House offers counseling, support groups and other resources to victims of domestic violence. It was founded by a group of concerned citizens in honor of a woman who was killed by her abuser.

Laura’s House has a facility with a counseling and resource center and corporate offices in Ladera Ranch, as well as a domestic violence advocacy center in Garden Grove. The counseling and resource center offers individual, couple, family and group therapy. It offers workshops on setting boundaries in relationships and addressing anxiety.

The domestic violence center also provides legal advocacy services, including preparing and filing restraining orders for clients; education on victim’s rights; and safety planning. It offers therapeutic services like crisis counseling and workshops on codependency, parenting and self-esteem.

Current status: Laura’s House made many changes in a short period of time. The two outpatient clinics, which would typically see clients in person, have converted to providing therapy over the phone. The hotline is available 24/7 at (866) 498-1511.

Most of the staff is working remotely. However, staff who took care of children while parents took part in the outpatient services are not currently working since the outpatient clinics are closed.

Even though courts are closed, the legal advocacy component is available online, where clients can still attain restraining orders.

The nonprofit is still taking in clients to its emergency shelter, though clients can no longer share rooms and mingle in the common areas.

“We have also limited the public areas to one family at a time,” said Laura’s House clinical director Greg Young. “One family goes in at a designated time to make their dinner or have lunch, then it’s cleaned thoroughly. We do have shelter in place at the shelter. But we want our clients to be able to get out and get fresh air, so we allow a certain amount of time each day for them to be able to do that, maintaining social distance.”

The nonprofit isn’t currently providing its group program.

“They certainly help a lot of clients but we have to weigh the safety factor,” Young said. “We are looking at other options to provide that info through online.”

Another important component of Laura’s House is a program that educates high school students on domestic violence. Last year, more than 15,000 teens took part in the county.

Jennifer Ponce, prevention education specialist for Laura’s House, said the presentations are up online. She said teachers have reached out and they will be running presentations on Zoom, a video conferencing app.

Challenges: Due to the virus, many victims are now forced to shelter in place with their abusers.

“Isolation is typically a key tactic and a tool that is used to maintain power and control over a victim,” Ponce said. “Now we have all been forced into this isolation. We have victim survivors at home with the aggressor and abuser. There are children in the homes who are being exposed to the violence.”

Ponce said with schools and work being closed, victims may be cut off from the one place that was considered their “safe space,” and they may no longer have access to individuals who have supported them through the violent relationship.

“Now nobody has an outlet,” Ponce said. “A lot of our kids, they feel safe at school where they have their teachers, counselors and friends. That has been eliminated. It’s created a huge barrier for them to access their support networks. It’s cut that off completely.”

Being confined to the house also makes it difficult for survivors to report the abuse. Ponce said one of the most substantial barriers is how a victim can access resources without tipping the abuser off. The nonprofit’s text line, which is usually available for teenage victims, has been expanded to all ages. That line is available by texting “HEART” to (949) 484-8440 to chat with an advocate online.

What would help: Laura’s House is also contending with financial issues. The nonprofit has had to reschedule events and fundraisers for summer and fall.

“It’s the biggest challenge a lot of nonprofits are facing is the fact that some have their bigger fundraisers and galas scheduled for the spring,” Ponce said.

The nonprofit has also had to shutter its two retail stores, “resale stores” where it sells items donated from the community. The proceeds support their programs.

“That is really a big part of how we get our funding,” Young said.

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Overall mood: Staff has had to adapt to the new system.

“For the staff, it has been a big adjustment for them to work from home,” Young said. “Everyone initially thinks it’s awesome and fantastic to work from home, but as far as the therapists are concerned, it’s a really tight team. Being on site and supporting one another — that part is gone.”

The staff has been taking part in online chats to keep morale up. Young said they organized a company happy hour online.

The staff knows the work they’re doing is vitally important to victims.

“I feel like there is a big spirit of enthusiasm,” Ponce said. “We are still being able to provide such a critical resource in such a critical time.”

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