Women fleeing violent relationships are facing tremendous hurdles due to COVID-19.
Last year, the Kelowna Women’s Shelter housed 186 women and children in the city. But they turned away 163 women seeking solace from violence, due to a lack of space.
The shelter has now partnered with a local hotel to temporarily house 10 women and their children. Yet, it’s simply a sliver of a problem only worsened during the pandemic.
In the past year, the shelter has seen a sharp spike in the number and severity of violent incidents at home.
With COVID-19 guidelines, socializing is prohibited, and women have not been able to lean on each other as they may have in the past. Group counselling, meetings and personal connections are literally off the table.
One woman, her name withheld due to privacy, staying in the hotel spoke to the Capital News about her experiences. While staying in the hotel is a welcome escape from a harmful situation, the separation from support has been difficult.
“To leave someone isolated in a hotel room alone for 30 days with no programming, that’s pretty risky.”
Meeting with other women in similar circumstances wold “create some comradely and some support” for people leaving violence, she said. An outreach work stops by the hotel four times a week, to help women one-on-one. However, one recipient of this attention described it as understaffed.
“If you’re leaving people isolated in rooms, that’s not an answer.”
The executive director of the Kelowna Women’s Shelter said when the time is right to meet again as groups and heal together, they‘ll do so. For now, they will continue to obey health regulations.
“Flip the system on its head”
The Kelowna Women’s Shelter said the topic of isolation speaks to a much larger issue. If it was up to her, Kelowna Women’s Shelter Executive Director, Allison McLauchlan would flip the system on its head.
Every night, hundreds of women and children are turned away from shelters in Canada because the facilities are full.
“In a perfect world I would love to see the legal system change the way they address this issue, and actually hold and make the perpetrators accountable, and ask them to change their entire lives instead of the women and children…
“Let’s keep women and children in their homes, and safe, and let’s put the perpetrators in shelters and let’s give them support, learning and tools… But you need a legal system that is set up to support and enforce that type of model. We don’t have it yet.”
McLauchlan would like to see care continue for women and children through transitional housing emergency shelters. Next, a second stage of care, where women can stay longer in normal units and still get case management support. And finally, provide long-term housing opportunities to women and their families.
Only a few large cities in Canada have access to all three stages of support – Kelowna is not on that list. The use of 10 local hotel rooms as shelter is new since the pandemic began. In the past, they have had the option of using hotels in situations where violence is a concern, but never before has the shelter been able to use them long-term, with costs covered by BC Housing.
Since receiving access to the hotel rooms last year, McLauchlan said they have never been empty.
“Is it isolating? Absolutely, it is. Is having someone long-term in a hotel the ideal situation? No. Is it the best that we can do to try and get women to safety in these times? Yeah. Could we do more? Of course.”
Many of these decisions are beyond the administrators of a shelter.
Even with all the hotel rooms in the world, the problem won’t go away.
“You can build another four or five shelters in Kelowna, and I’ll fill them for you. That’s not getting to the root of the problem. That’s not getting to what creates the issue.”
For right now, McLaughlan said it’s important people talk about what is happening in their own homes.
“For many years, domestic abuse was never discussed, never talked about, was hidden. So let’s have honest talks and discussions about it.”
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