A pedestrian looks over a vigil set up in Nelson on Friday to mark National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which is held Dec. 6 to commemorate the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre that killed 14 women and injured 10 others. Photo: Tyler Harper

A pedestrian looks over a vigil set up in Nelson on Friday to mark National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which is held Dec. 6 to commemorate the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre that killed 14 women and injured 10 others. Photo: Tyler Harper

Demand for safe space increases in the fall at Nelson’s transition house

The eight-bed service for women and children fleeing domestic violence has been full since Oct. 1

The head of Nelson’s Aimee Beaulieu Transition House says the safe space for women and children fleeing domestic violence has been filled to capacity every night since October 1.

Program manager Anna Maskerine said the eight-bed facility was barely accessed from January to June due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

But as restrictions were lifted in the summer, more women began accessing the transition house.

“Certainly now we’re feeling the full impact of that where [we are] full to capacity,” said Maskerine, who added there was a waitlist for service last week that has since been addressed.

“The phones are ringing off the hook and it’s a super busy time.”

Statistics provided by Maskerine show 47 women and 21 children requested service from January through March 31. Of those, eight women and one child sheltered at the house.

Those numbers remained relatively the same from April to June when 45 women and five children asked for help. Ten women and two children lived at the house.

The house, meanwhile, did not reach capacity once in the first six months of 2020.

Maskerine said the lockdown played a part in keeping women at home with abusive partners. Women did not have a safe space to call for service, and were sometimes threatened with homelessness during a pandemic.

“If you’re a parent and there’s children involved, then it’s a big risk coming into the shelter and stepping away from shared housing with your partner, and then not knowing where you’re going go next.”

Results from a national survey by Women’s Shelters Canada released last month show 59 per cent of shelters saw a decrease in calls for help between March and May.

The survey, which included 266 shelters in Canada including Nelson’s transition house, also found a subsequent rise in calls that corresponded with a relaxing of restrictions.

Related: Canada-wide survey of women’s shelters shows abuse more severe during pandemic

That has also been the case in Nelson.

The transition house was full eight nights from July to Sept. 30, according to Maskerine, with 35 women and 10 children in need of service and 11 women and three children staying at the house.

Since October, the demand has increased. Fifty-one women and five children have requested help, and eight women and five children have stayed at the house.

Maskerine said there were also four women and three children who had extended stays at the house due to complex situations and a lack of available housing in Nelson.

Maskerine says restrictions on travel mean the transition house isn’t able to move families to other communities when it can’t provide space. Trail and Grand Forks are the closest communities to Nelson with transition houses for women and children, and Maskerine said transfers are less likely during the pandemic.

“So the network was already small, and now it’s even smaller,” she said.

Maskerine said the transition house has made a number of changes to adapt to the pandemic.

The house’s capacity is still eight beds, but because of the need for physical distancing other locations in Nelson are now being used.

A program has been created to connect Elders with Indigenous women who may have concerns about using the service, and Maskerine said Columbia Basin Trust funds will go toward developing a text option for women using the crisis line.

“That will help for women who don’t have internet access, or can’t get on the phone, but could maybe chat on the screen and do that in a safe way,” she said. “So we’re just trying to be really creative and trying to use technology to reach women.”

Meanwhile, a vigil was set up Friday outside Nelson City Hall and the Nelson Courthouse marking National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, which occurs annually on Dec. 6 to remember the 14 murdered women and 10 injured in the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre.

Although no in-person event was planned, Maskerine encouraged participants to visit the vigil as well as visit the Nelson Violence Against Women in Relationships page on Facebook, where a virtual lighting of candles will take place.

Staff at the Aimee Beaulieu Transition House can be contacted 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 250-354-4357. Anyone at immediate risk of harm is asked to call 911.

Related:

Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Women, children escaping domestic violence have few options in Nelson

Nelson lacks enough supportive housing to meet homeless demand: report

@tyler_harper | tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

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