As violence against women continues to increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, Niagara women’s shelters are telling the public they haven’t gone anywhere, and are still available to help, whether with emergency shelter or through the programs they provide.
Those services include 24-hour phone and text support, counselling, and other critical domestic violence services.
Gillian’s Place in St. Catharines is tasked with looking after women in need of help in Niagara-on-the-Lake, while Women’s Place in South Niagara covers that area of the peninsula, but also on occasion shelters women from NOTL.
In response to the pandemic, the two agencies, plus Serenity Place in Welland, have teamed up to create Still Here Niagara, a campaign intended to remind people the shelters are still open, and are operating safely through COVID-19.
There has been a 30 per cent increase rates of gender-based violence during the pandemic, says Nicole Regehr, director of development and violence prevention programs at Gillian’s Place.
Both agencies want to be sure women know that if they need safe shelter, it’s available, or if they’re not ready or are not in a position to leave, there are other options for seeking help, and how to access them.
Some women are at home with an abusive partner 24 hours a day, and stress over restrictions, or over loss or reduction of income, may have escalated, says Regehr.
Isolation through increased job losses has created a difficult time for women who have already been experiencing domestic violence, Regehr adds.
They don’t have the same opportunities to leave the house, speak out to a co-worker, friend or family member about what’s happening at home, or even make a phone call for helpa, while texting is easier.
“It’s the perfect storm. Abuse is about power and control, and isolating women from family and friends is a tactic an abuser uses, but they don’t need to during a pandemic. It’s already happening. Violence breeds in science.”
While they are seeing a decrease in the number of people using the shelters during the lockdown, they see an increase in other areas, including a huge increase — 1,000 per cent — in the text support line, Regehr says.
“Women at home may not be able to find a place to make that phone call, but they can text.”
She urges anyone who is concerned about a friend or family member to reach out safely, make a phone call or drive by to see if everyone is okay.
An increasing number of women are not, she says, with surveys showing more visits to hospital emergency rooms due to domestic violence.
Amanda Braet, director of development and stewardship for Women’s Place, says although both agencies have their own areas of jurisdiction, “it can be complicated.” Occasionally, for reasons of safety, or if there are family members close by, Women’s Place may take in women from NOTL who would otherwise go to Gillian’s Place.
But staff at the two agencies communicate and work together regularly, with the same goal — to help women and children across the region who are victims of domestic abuse.
This spring, people looking to support women and children experiencing domestic violence will have a new way to help their local women’s shelters that also gives them a chance to win. On Saturday, May 15 at 11 a.m., Women’s Place launched their first online 50/50 raffle, with a minimum guaranteed jackpot of $2,500. Tickets, and an explanation of how the fundraising lottery works, is available at www.womensplace5050.ca.
Those who purchase their tickets before 11:59 a.m. on June 1 will also be entered to win a $500 Early Bird cash prize.
The spring raffle is the first of three 50/50 draws Women’s Place plans to host in 2021. They will help offset the fundraising revenue lost as COVID-19 restrictions cause the cancellation of events like the Women’s Place Book Riot, a community event which has been called off for a second year.
“Our shelter staff is reporting an increase in the severity of physical violence that our clients are experiencing,” says Women’s Place executive director Jennifer Gauthier. “We also anticipate a steep increase in the number of women who will reach out to our shelters, especially once the stay-at-home order is lifted. While women are at increased risk, our shelters are also losing much of the fundraising revenue that we depend on from community events to support survivors,”
Gillian’s Place will begin their 50/50 draw in August, and in October will hold its annual Walk a Mile fundraising event, the second time it’s had to be organized virtually.
Last year’s successful event raised $105,000 to support women and children who have experienced abuse, with participants walking in their neighbourhoods. This year, Gillian’s Place has already made the decision to adapt the fundraiser to a community event, rather than the traditional Pen Centre location. On Oct. 16, Walk a Mile COVID Style will be more inclusive. Everyone is encouraged to take part, any way and anywhere they want, in heels, sneakers or whatever footwear they choose — they just need to walk a mile.
While it’s a shame not to be able to get together in one place for such a great event, says Regehr, “in some ways, it’s brought us closer together.”
For more information about Walk a Mile, how to donate, or about services that are available, visit https://gilliansplace.com/walk-a-mile-covid-style.
These fundraisers help provide emergency shelter services, 24-hour phone and text support, counselling, and other critical domestic violence services offered by the agencies.