Overcrowding at Sea to Sky women's shelter 

Lack of space means mother and baby turned away

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A mother and baby fleeing violence were among the latest people to be turned away from Pearl's Place Transition House, Squamish's six-bed shelter that offers women a temporary home while they adjust to leaving domestic abuse.

"We've had to turn several people away, (there mother and baby were) just one example," said Sheila Allen, the executive director of the Howe Sound Women's Centre.

She said the mother, who came to them at the end of September, was given as much support as Pearl's was able to provide.

"We were able to find that person an alternate safe location but it was outside of our jurisdiction so she had to travel for miles and miles to get help. When people are from our area and need help we'd prefer to keep them closer to (people in) their community, who can support them as well."

And in the first four days of October alone, Pearl's Place had 10 referrals.

"Ten women were referred and three children, and the house is full!" Allen said, adding that Squamish immediately needs eight beds to be available to manage the need.

When asked if she thought the lack of safe beds was a crisis for the Sea to Sky Corridor, Allen said the situation had been "escalating slowly" over the past few years, thanks largely to lack of funding. Financial support from government agency BC Housing has not increased since 2007, Allen said.

As well, their mandate has changed and Pearl's Place is now open to more vulnerable women.

"We're housing women who had been through domestic violence and also opening the doors to other women who might be from vulnerable populations: homeless or needing extra assistance in the short-term in a crisis — so we are packed all the time... we're not just helping women who are leaving domestic violence," Allen said.

"Now it's to the point where it's just that much more noticeable... we're full to capacity in our transition house all the time.

"I think the government of B.C. is using transition houses as a low-cost alternative to investing in the provincial mental health system."

There are two facilities to assist women in the region, Pearl's Place, where women and children can stay up to 30 days while they get their lives together, and a smaller safe house in Pemberton that is run by volunteers and a part-time coordinator, where women can stay up to 10 days. All groceries, prescriptions and day-to-day necessities are provided because women often flee with nothing.

There is no safe house or transition house in Whistler and women in the resort who need to leave violent relationships at short notice are sent to Pemberton or Squamish. Allen was unable to say how many of the women they help come from Whistler.



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