Organizations say government funding increase has been a lifeline, but there is still a strain on their services

With domestic violence calls increasing in the city, organizations say they are feeling the pinch when it comes to providing services and housing to victims.

The 2016 budget, announced by the Alberta government in October, allotted new annual funding of $15-million to provide support for emergency and second stage housing organizations in the province.

This meant an increase of 70 new beds for women and their children, as well as close to 20 new support staff positions.

Tanya Shewfelt, senior communications advisor for Discovery House, a second-stage housing organization in Calgary, said the funding increase has helped the organization, and was a “nice release” from the economic tough times affecting people across the province.

“It was definitely needed. It’s been very difficult for us as an organization because we see the demand for our services have increased and it’s getting busier and busier and busier… and it scares you a bit because we want to continue to help.”

Domestic violence is defined by the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters as “the attempt, act or intent of someone within a relationship, where the relationship is characterized by intimacy, dependency, or trust, to intimidate either by threat or by the use of physical force on another person or property.”

Second-stage housing is a longer-term solution for victims of domestic violence, whereas emergency shelters provide support for a few weeks.

Discovery House combats domestic violence in the city with a “housing first” approach, Shewfelt said. They have 19 apartments where women and their children can stay for up to a year.

On top of these apartments, they also provide rent subsidization programs, along with counseling services that are available to all clients.Calgary has seen a steep increase in domestic and family violence related calls in the last five years.  Photo illustration by Devyn Ens.

Janet Reimer, executive director for the shelters’ council, said the funding increase was “wonderful news.”

“It really is an unprecedented investment in women’s shelters … for many years, shelters have been hard pressed in providing services,” she said.

“What this funding does is essentially provide supports to shelters to work with women in a more intense way, and also connect them with resources in the community.”

Reimer said that the council has been watching the increase in domestic violence calls closely over the last decade.

“Because Alberta’s been through booms and busts before, we’ve seen demands for women’s shelter services really rise during the boom, so it’s been really difficult to generate responses at the peak of the boom.”

“So at the bust, we’re certainly hearing from the police, they’re seeing increases in domestic violence, as well as the severity of the abuse, that women are being more badly beaten,” she added.

Domestic violence criminal code offences have increased 29 per cent over a five-year average, according to the Calgary Police Services.

Rob Davidson, staff sergeant of the Domestic Conflict Unit, said there were 17,761 service calls, including information reports, standbys and criminal offences, in 2014, and 18,993 reported incidents overall in 2015, which he described as a “fairly significant increase.”“It really is an unprecedented investment in women’s shelters… for many years, shelters have been hard pressed in providing services,”-Janet Reimer, executive director for the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelter

Some of the increase can be attributed to population growth and heightened social awareness, and Shewfelt said it is in some cases also linked to the issue of the economic downturn.

“We do see sometimes that the economic downturn can increase domestic violence rates, however, it’s really hard to predict,” she said.

 “Domestic violence has no bounds, it has no economic bounds, it has no socio-economic or diversity (boundaries), it touches all of us.”

Shewfelt said that one in four women in Alberta will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime, a number she finds alarmingly high.

Reimer encourages women to take advantage of women’s shelters and their services because they can be lifesaving in certain situations.

“I think the new funding will really enable support shelters in doing that type of work, because there aren’t any new shelters being built right now,” Reimer said.

“We also know that there are different risk factors for domestic violence and one of those is, ‘Is he unemployed?’”

Reimer said in order to combat the issue of domestic violence, Albertans need to address gender inequality in the province, and be able to recognize the signs of unhealthy relationships.

She also said domestic violence is not about anger management, but about the idea that someone feels entitled to control another person.

“It’s much better to be able to say, ‘This is what you’re doing, it’s not okay.’ Instead of condoning that behaviour.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence in the city, call the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter’s 24-hour helpline at 403-234-7233, or toll-free at 1-866-606-7233.

dens@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Zoe Choy, zchoy@cjournal.ca