Women’s shelters in Victoria have not seen an increase in the need for their services yet, but expect that to change in the coming weeks. (Black Press Media file photo)

Vancouver Island women’s shelters bracing for uptick due to pandemic

Isolation and uncertainty can lead to increase in violence, experts say

As more and more people are laid off, socially distancing and self-isolating — women’s shelters in Victoria are preparing for an uptick in service calls for people experiencing intimate partner violence.

Candace Stretch, manager of The Cridge Supportive Housing and Family Services, says while they haven’t seen an increase in calls as of yet — her team is bracing for impact. The Cridge Centre for the Family runs a shelter for women fleeing violence, along with a transition house which are both currently full. Stretch says her team is struggling to move people along and is worried about housing other women who need the help.

“It’s highly likely women will need to get in [to the shelter or transition house] but there will be a backlog,” she says. “COVID-19 is creating a problem in terms of accessing services and people are getting stuck and not able to move forward with their lives.”

Another issue Stretch is worried about is overcrowding and social distancing within the facilities. At this point, they haven’t had to turn anyone away, but Stretch says they’re looking at ways to help mitigate the influx if it comes to that.

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“If we do have to turn them away, we wouldn’t just say sorry and hang up,” she explains, adding they would contact other shelters to find a space, and if that didn’t work they would set the woman up with an outreach worker who would help her create a safety plan. “If it were a life [or death] situation, we might just have to say come in and we’ll figure it out.”

That could look like women sleeping on couches or being put in hotel rooms to stay safe.

Makenna Rielly, executive director of the Victoria Women’s Transition House, says her team is in preparation mode as well, expecting a “huge amount” of women will be needing help in the coming weeks. She says historically any time there is an earthquake or public health emergency it results in an increase in sexual assaults and domestic abuse.

“The abuser tends to isolate their partner and the fact that some people are not able to go to work now … that leaves the person at home [without normal daily supports],” she says.

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Both the Victoria Women’s Transitions House and The Cridge are in close contact with other service providers, along with B.C. Housing to find creative ways to shelter women who are in need of help during the pandemic.

Rielly says counsellors are working from home and contacting their clients over the phone to provide support.

“If we can’t take someone in and they’re at terrible risk — hopefully, we’ll be able to accommodate them through a hotel and or counselling support until it’s calmed down or the shelter clears,” she says.

Elijah Zimmerman, with the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre, says people are in “adaptive mode,” trying to get basic survival structures in place but he expects there will be an upswing in needed services after that.

“In times like a pandemic when there are so many moving pieces and things can feel so out of control, people who have a difficult time dealing with that and use violence as an outlet tend to then do that in this kind of time,” he says.

Zimmerman emphasized the Sexual Assault Clinic is open and wants the public to know if they have been sexually assaulted they are open and ready to support you.

The Cridge Centre for the Family, Victoria Women’s Transition House and the Victoria Sexual Assault Clinic will likely be in need of financial support in the coming weeks and ask if anyone wants to donate they do so through the various websites.

On March 20, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, stated that an “emergency operation centre” was being set up provincially, along with each of the health authorities to provide support.

“Many ministries, as well as the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, have been active on this and there’s a committee. So, there are some plans — particularly in certain communities — about how to support [not just] women’s shelters but all of our shelter systems. We’re working with service providers to ensure we can identify and protect them, and making sure we have approved hygiene and other measures to support people,” she said.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

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