Rowan House has helped hundreds of families escape domestic violence, but it can’t afford the transitional housing that would make it easier for those families to move back into the community. So, it’s using the courts to force abusers to leave the homes those families fled from.
Rowan House serves a large geographical region; spanning from Calgary’s city limits – all the way out to Claresholm, just south of High River.
The shelter provides crisis and solution-focused counselling, danger assessment, safety planning, healthy relationship education and healing circles.
“We provide one-on-one outreach support for women in the community who may not be ready to leave abuse or are in their own place but still require support and programming to keep themselves safe,” says Ally Cramm, the community relations coordinator for Rowan House.
The house has 24 beds in seven bedrooms, serving around 200 women and children each year.
“Our children’s program understands the developmental and behavioral struggles that may arise in kids who witness or experience abuse. We work with the children to heal as well by teaching coping strategies and resilience, and of course just letting them play and be kids again.”
Along with providing support for these families, Rowan House also provides all the essential basic necessities during their stay, including food, clothing, deodorant, toothpaste and more.
“We also [provide] healthy relationship education to help women understand abuse and healing circles to empower them to help women understand abuse and make decisions to break the cycle of violence in their lives.”
After providing around 30 days of support and programming for these families, Rowan House then integrates them back into the community in order to adjust back into everyday life.
“Children typically get set up in a new school and get back to a normal routine while women often find jobs and begin to move forward,” Cramm says.
Although some families are able to adjust perfectly back into society, many of them continue to struggle with the difficulties of lasting trauma and lack of safe affordable housing.
“I think risk is the first factor,” Cramm says. “If they are too high-risk to move into their own apartment they typically apply for a unit in a secure, second stage shelter – which has varying wait lists.”
Cramm says having low-income issues and already being on income support makes the housing options even more limited for some families.
“Depending on the person’s situation and risk, we may extend their stay in-shelter while they figure out the house piece – which then in turn may lead to someone being turned away from the shelter,” Cramm says. “Everything is case by case but it’s definitely a struggle for all shelters.”
As a result, Rowan House had begun looking into exploring transitional housing for them – a need identified in a 2015 feasibility study.
“We still have a couple scattered site units that we sublease longer-term to residents, but we recently made the decision to put our plans for a new, second-stage shelter on hold.”
Cramm says that this decision was made due to not having the proper funding for this particular project at the moment.
“We didn’t think it was fair to ask our community to fund a major capital campaign in this current economy – which looks quite different than it did five years ago when the study was completed,” Cramm says.
“Especially at the risk of moving any funding away from our emergency shelter operations.”
Cramm says they are looking forward to revisiting the idea of a second-stage shelter in a years’ time but are currently working on introducing a ‘Safe at Home’ model similar to what takes place in Australia.
“In this program the abuser leaves the family home – likely court-ordered – and is taken to a shelter where they would receive counselling and support to help them understand and change their behaviours.”
The use of a program like this in the community would ensure that women and children are not uprooted from their lives and are able to maintain routine and stability close to their support networks.
“This actually prevents the abuser from continuing to abuse in a new relationship,” says Cramm.
Cramm says they have just received a major grant from the federal government to help further develop this program.
“This project is currently underway – we are at the point of site-selection.”
“We hope that the education and healing done in shelter provides them with a strong foundation to move forward to continue to heal and lead healthy, abuse-free lives.”