Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

When love hurts… and housing woes add insult to injury

Three years after fleeing domestic violence, a B.C. artist speaks up

Howling winds rattle the windows as Andrea, 41, puts the kettle on and takes a seat at the head of the kitchen table. With three of her four boys at school for the day, she’s basking in a moment’s peace before plowing on with her insurmountable to-do list. 

Her eldest son J., 19, has the day off work and is creating music in his bedroom—unn-tss, unn-tss, unn-tss, unn-tss. unn-tss, unn-tss, unn-ts,s unn-tss—the sound is faint, but it’s there. 

“He saved my life,” she proclaims. 

It was New Year’s Day, 2021, in the early morning hours when Andrea found her partner B. passed out post-coitus with one of her close friends. The confrontation quickly became heated and violent. 

“I slapped him across the face and then he flew into a rage, came at me, grabbed me by the throat and started strangling me under the table,” she remembers.

She felt her limbs go numb and for a moment, it was as if she was leaving her body.

“No, not like this,” she thought as the hands of a man—who doubles her weight—squeezed her neck. 

“He just kept going, going, going and wouldn’t stop.”

But then J. appeared with a knife and stood above B. 

“He was ready to kill B. if he had to,” Andrea says. 

B. let go and stumbled off to bed. Andrea sent messages to a few contacts as the adrenaline gave way to exhaustion, and finally dozed off next to her two youngest boys. 

“B. just strangled me and almost killed me,” she wrote. 

The next morning, she took B. a coffee. 

“I was so confused,” she concedes. 

“Good morning,” he said with the sweetest smile. 

She asked if he remembered what happened.

“Yes, I remember everything,” he replied. “I’m really, really sorry honey.”

Bruised, heartbroken, and in a state of shock, Andrea mustered the courage to request that B. go to his mom’s house.  

“I stayed quiet and avoided him until he packed a bag and left.”  

One month after the explosive New Year’s Day incident and a carousel of days where B. would be home and not be home, Andrea was still unable to find any satisfactory proof that B. was actually sorry, or was making any attempt to change any of his problematic behaviours. Finally, a friend convinced her to call the women’s shelter—and to file an RCMP report. 

As a non-Indigenous woman living in an Indigenous community, Andrea was convinced she had no choice other than to leave the house to B., who is a member of the Indigenous community.

“I said to the kids we have to go to a safe house, and they understood,” she says. 

They packed one backpack each and drove to an undisclosed safe house in a neighbouring community.

The song “The Watcher” by Dr. Dre was playing on the radio as they fled, Andrea recalls. 

Everywhere that I go
Ain’t the same as befo’ 
(The watcher)
People I used to know
Just don’t know me no mo’ 
(The watcher)


Accessing emergency shelter in the Sea to Sky

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Whistler residents fleeing domestic violence had no emergency safe housing. But thanks to a unique pilot program birthed out of pandemic isolation needs, the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) now has an inventory of safe homes in hotels and unfilled vacation rentals Whistlerites and surrounding area community members can access at no cost for three to 14 nights. 

Jackie Dickinson, the executive director of WCSS, says an outreach worker helps the client with the check-in/check-out process, and supports with a transition plan from the beginning of the emergency stay.

“Unfortunately, the emergency units are short-term, but they are meant to be short-term because a person accessing that should then be able to transition to another part of the housing spectrum,” Dickinson says. “Where these emergency housing programs are becoming problematic is that people are trying to access them beyond what we anticipate those stays should be because they can’t transition to that next spectrum. For me, what would change all of this is if we had a housing continuum that supported people.”

PearlSpace, a non-profit dedicated to preventing domestic violence and a close ally of WCSS, also operates a safe house in Pemberton, with a second emergency housing facility opening in Whistler this spring.  

“We provide all the food and help with transportation costs. We can provide childcare needs like diapers and formula. We often find that people come with what’s on their back, so we have all the things in place at the safe home for them to be comfortable,” says PearlSpace executive director Ashley Oakes, noting staff also work with the client to access resources and create a plan.

Both WCSS and PearlSpace have seen a steady uptick in bedstays year after year, partly because “the volume of people have increased in the region” as Oakes explains.

In 2023, PearlSpace hosted 2,328 “heads in beds” night stays in the transition house and safe home, and WCSS is now seeing upwards of 8,000 clients a year.  

“Pre-pandemic we had 2,500 meetings in a year,” says Dickinson.

Andrea stayed the maximum amount of time in an emergency safe home before moving her family of five into a one-bedroom, second-stage apartment. She says her stay at the emergency shelter was “stressful” and “detached.” Paperwork had to be dealt with, she had to present evidence to the police (photos of her bruised neck and text messages), and through it all she had no childcare support.

Her teen boys were less than thrilled to move into the second-stage apartment; it was such a small space that came with many rules, like the 10 p.m. lights out, no visitors, zero tolerance of alcohol and smoking, and weekly check-ins with a social worker.

“You’re not really in your own space. But I basically said to my boys, ‘Do you want to be homeless or be here?’ We all went a little crazy there the first year. I can see how so few women leave and even if they do, they go back after a year. He has a stable house.” 

Transitioning from second-stage housing

With the average two-bedroom rental in Whistler fetching $4,500 to $5,000/month and single rooms going for $1,500 to $2,000/month, Oakes admits securing housing in the community is “not an easy path forward.” 

PearlSpace supports clients as they search for affordable housing options in Whistler, Pemberton, and Squamish, and it also offers housing subsidies when resources are available. 

“But those are temporary, and depending on the make-up of the family, they max out at about $650/month,” Oakes says.   

One beacon of hope for vulnerable people on the hunt for a home is a new affordable housing project by the Whistler Valley Housing Society (WVHS). According to Dickinson, the WVHS build in Cheakamus Crossing is set to open this July and has promised 15 units to clients of social service agencies like PearlSpace and WCSS. 

“It will keep people in community and is not tied to employment,” Dickinson explains. “A lot of employee housing in our community is really valuable. I live in it, I feel tremendously grateful, and it fits one part of that (housing) continuum. But if you’re injured, become disabled, or are fleeing violence, and you need housing but cannot work at that time, it can jeopardize your housing.”  

Councillor Cathy Jewett confirmed in a Feb. 7 email the affordable housing apartment at 1400 Mount Fee Road in Cheakamus Crossing is about 70 per cent complete, and a Canada Day opening is anticipated. Jewett went on to note that, in addition to allocating 15 units to social service agencies, WVHS will rent 15 units to essential service employees like teachers, daycare staff, medical workers, RCMP, fire rescue, and transit bus drivers. 

PearlSpace is also piloting a safe housing program with a private homeowner in the community; the non-profit is leasing the suite directly from the homeowner and then subleasing it to a client at a “very affordable rate.” 

“We would love to establish more partnerships like that with private homeowners in the community that allow us to use existing rental stock that’s not being used or being underused where the rental income is not a requirement for the homeowner to be able to provide safe accommodations for people fleeing violence,” Oakes told Pique.

Andrea, who lives in a resort municipality that goes head-to-head with Whistler’s affordable housing crisis, says it was overwhelming to find a rental that would accommodate four children. 

“I’ve got excellent references, but it’s that stigma,” she says. 

She contacted a long list of landlords before scoring a temporary two-bedroom place, which she can only just afford with support from monthly income assistance and rent from J. 

By spring, they have to pack and move again because the landlord is switching the unit back to short-term rental. 

But if there’s a silver lining to Andrea’s housing woes, it’s having her application for a brand-new subsidized apartment unit approved by the local housing authority. 

“If you really think that the government and the system is going to save you and support you, it’s the same problem of thinking that that guy is going to save you and support you. The whole journey comes back to your own centre and realizing that you can’t leave it up to others. You have to be the hero of your own life,” Andrea says, noting that on top of jumping through all these housing hoops, she’s also cut back on a lot of social interactions and quit drinking, as rebuilding from scratch takes every bit of energy and focus she can muster.

Proceeding with compassion 

When Andrea first met B., she was attracted to his big, charming personality and his knowledge of nature and the land. In hindsight, she says the little red flags were always there… 

“I have a lot of compassion for other women facing similar situations,” she says. “I think it was probably 10 times harder to leave than to stay. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right? I had to be willing to let a lot go for my own sake and the sake of my kids’ well-being.”

According to Oakes, PearlSpace sees a lot of people go back—with a safety plan in place. 

“It’s a challenge, for sure. We don’t judge a person’s decision. We only offer the resources they need to be safe in whatever decision they make,” Oakes says. 

Three years since fleeing, Andrea focuses on art projects and uses Compassion Key—a healing modality centred around clearing traumas originating in childhood through self-directed compassion—as well as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), art therapy, and yoga with breath work as her main healing tools.

“Compassion Key speaks right to your inner child. I have rewired the voice in my head so that it’s not so critical and defeating,” she says.

“My No. 1 message that I want to give to every woman is that YOU are the most powerful person in your life. Not the system, not your friends or family. You are.” 

Pique reached out to B. for an interview, but he did not want to participate in this article. Andrea dropped the assault charge against him to avoid a potentially lengthy and exhausting court battle, and allows him regular visits with the boys. 

“I’m just focused on what’s best for the kids,” she explains. “I need to really pick my battles, and right now it’s ensuring visits are safe and good for the kids, and that all the kids and I are supported in our healing from the trauma. Those priorities take a lot of time and energy.” 

She is also finding positive ways to connect her two youngest boys to their Indigenous community and culture.


Women in need of PearlSpace services can call the 24-hour crisis line at 1-877-890-5711 or visit for a detailed list of services. Men in crisis can reach out to