Hope’s only shelter for women at-risk of or fleeing family violence, and their children, has received $32,000 in federal dollars.
The funding is part of the federal government’s support of sexual assault centres and women’s shelters across the country. It will allow the Jean Scott Transition House to deal with the challenging circumstances of COVID-19 said executive director of the Hope and Area Transition Society Gerry Dyble.
“If we need to ‘thin out’ the transition house due to social distancing and rent motel rooms for women and children fleeing domestic violence we can do this,” she stated via email. “(Also) increasing staffing supports, additional costs for (personal protective equipment) and other operational expenditures.”
“A number of shelters and transition homes were struggling prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,” executive director for Women’s Shelters Canada Lise Martin acknowledged. “With the numerous adaptations required to continue to provide services while meeting health and safety standards, they have demonstrated commitment and creativity. Having access to the federal emergency funds in a quick and efficient manner made a huge difference.”
The government acknowledged that demand for these services has increased significantly over the past few weeks. Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef said consultations have revealed a 20 to 30 per cent increase in rates of family and gender-based violence.
While some services have seen demand skyrocket, including a 300 per cent increase in calls to Vancouver-based Battered Women’s Support Services crisis line, others are experiencing an uneasy silence. Anna Gladue, manager of the Jean Scott Transition House, told the Hope Standard that phone lines went silent around the time restrictions to deal with COVID-19 came into effect.
These restrictions, and the Prime Minister’s daily news conferences, urged people to stay home unless absolutely necessary. For women experiencing violence, self-isolation could involve being stuck indoors with their abuser, without opportunities to reach out for help without their abuser being aware.
“If abusers aren’t moving and aren’t leaving the house then it can create some serious challenges for women,” Gladue said. “In addition to that they don’t want to sort of ruffle any feathers if they make that move (to call)…We know that the most dangerous time for a woman who is fleeing is that time where she actually does make the plan to leave and is packed and walking out the door.”
Gladue said calls have picked up, an average of one per day now, yet are nowhere near pre-coronavirus levels when the transition house averaged three to five calls a day. They are receiving some text messages as well, which Gladue said is encouraging. The occupancy at the house has increased as well, from one person during the height of COVID-19 restrictions to now two people staying there.
In early April, the federal government announced up to $40 million would be going to women who are fleeing gender-based violence. On May 16, the government announced this money had been disbursed. Of this, $20.54 million is going to 422 shelters, and another $3 million is going to 89 sexual assault centres. The Government of Quebec received $6.46 million directly, which will then go to shelters and sexual assault centres in that province.
As well, another $10 million was provided to the federal government’s network of on-reserve shelters and shelters in the Yukon. That funding will support 46 shelters for Indigenous women and children fleeing violence.
“The Government of Canada’s emergency funding ensures the continuity and sustainability of services provided by these organizations, supporting their efforts to adjust to the evolving needs of survivors, while facing sudden and unexpected changes to everyday operations,” a news release May 16 stated.