Safe house network to be established in Whistler, Pemberton 

$1 million provincial funds to addressing violence against women

Leaving an abusive relationship can be wrenching. Women often leave while they are unemployed or underemployed with dependent children and predictably low self-esteem. To make the transition from victim to survivor takes a great deal of support.

In November, the province granted close to $70,000 to expand support services for abused women in the Sea to Sky corridor. Two months later, service levels remain the same. The challenge has been finding someone to fill a home operator position to organize a network of safe houses in the Whistler and Pemberton areas.

Melany Crowston, program director for the Howe Sound Women’s Centre, remains optimistic that the right people are out there and will fall into the right roles.

"We had a couple of very good candidates, but they had to turn down the job for various reasons," said the women’s advocate.

Crowston says the search continues for qualified candidates and she hopes the program will be in place by February.

"One of the challenges is to find women from those communities wanting to take on the work," she said. "It’s important they know the resources in their own community."

She explains that the first two to three days after a woman leaves an abusive relationship are critical. The woman, or family, needs a secure base from which to access necessary services, from various forms of counseling to income assistance and job search.

"At that point women are extremely vulnerable," said Crowston. "They may go back to the abusive situation. You have to remember that this woman has been hurt by someone she loves."

The safe house program will act as complement to the existing services provided by Pearl’s Place transition house in Squamish.

"What we’re looking at is places for short-term stays. And we define that as five days. Transition houses allow women and their children to stay up to 30 days.

"Say someone in Whistler, Pemberton or Mount Currie calls the crisis line at 2 a.m. and says they need to get to a safe place. Instead of trying to get them away to get down here, they can go temporarily into their community and decide what to do. Do they want to stay in their own community? Do they want to come down here?"

The proposed safe house network’s success will be dependent on volunteers. Some will act as lay counselors helping abused women to gain independence through accessing available resources. Other volunteers will open up their homes for short-term stays.

A safe house network is also necessary to take the pressure off of the existing transition house.

The house can accommodate three families at any one time and provides 16-hour onsite support. The remaining eight-hour shift is not staffed due to funding constraints.

The annual operating budget for Pearl’s Place is around $250,000. Once the mortgage, direct service expenses and maintenance fees come out, there’s not a lot of money left. Crowston hopes there will come a time when staff is available 24 hours a day and that actual transition houses will be available to women in their own communities.

Whether this will become a reality is largely dependent on the will of the government. On Monday, Jan, 9, Ida Chong, Minister of Community Services and Minister Responsible for Seniors’ and Women’s Issues, announced a further $1 million allocation towards combating violence against women.

"Violence against women is unacceptable," said Chong. "We recognize that successful awareness and prevention programs start at the community level. Local organizations are in the best position to shift attitudes and behaviour that will ultimately make B.C. communities safer for women and their families."

The money has been earmarked to create and support programs that address the needs of populations deemed most at risk: First Nations women, immigrant and visible minority women, older women, and women with disabilities.

According to Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile , Statistics Canada, 1999, 30 per cent of women currently or previously married have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence at the hands of a marital partner. Crowston says the actual percentage is hard to quantify because of the number of women who fail to report abuse. She says some experts working with battered women estimate physical, or emotional abuse may be occurring in as many as three out of every five marriages.

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