A kitchen in one of Rowan House Society’s rehabilitation homes for domestic abusers. PHOTO COURTESY OF: ROWAN HOUSE SOCIETY.

Five years ago, the grey floors of an emergency shelter hosted the pitter-patter of eight explorative children, alongside the exhausted steps of their mother.

Chris Tulloch, chair of the board for the Rowan House Society, a crisis intervention and long-term support line, recalls how that one big family occupied practically all of the shelter’s space, delivering a shock to both him and his organizers. The acts of one male domestic abuser had sent a whole family into a shelter.

“But it was the realization that one abuser could disrupt nine lives, [that] made us think, okay, there has to be a better way of doing things,” says Tulloch.

Tulloch and his team diligently researched ways to uproot this problem, and in turn, generated a new program – Safe at Home, which launched in Calgary on March 1. The goal of the program is to reverse the placements of domestic abusers and victims by relocating the abuser to a shelter elsewhere and ensuring the families are supported in their homes.

This change in placements aims to provide a more efficient and economically stable way to support female victims in issues of domestic abuse.

“The thing that was the real trigger, though, was finding out that women often can’t afford even low income housing,” says Tulloch.  Because of this, many women lack a safe place to go outside the shelter, and some are unable to leave.

Creating a new method

The Rowan House Society expanded its mentality, deciding to take on the new goal of moving beyond short-term solutions to supporting victims with the Safe at Home initiative. 

“Simply by providing shelter that wasn’t going to achieve that goal. So, we decided we were going to focus outside the shelter.”

Tulloch and his team work diligently to ensure a safe space for all involved in domestic abuse issues; he says that Rowan House Society’s ultimate goal is to eliminate domestic violence.

Moving past shelters, Rowan House Society took a step back to re-evaluate what they considered the core problems needing to be addressed, and what could be done to invent a new style of support.

“This is literally breaking new ground in terms of dealing with domestic abuse, we are inventing a new way to help resolve violence,” says Tulloch.

Timmi Shorr, the chief operating officer at Rowan House, says the philosophy behind a domestic abuse solution does not solely pertain to perceived victims but understanding that it’s not only those who suffer from abuse that need help.

“It’s looking at the whole family and supporting the whole family. You know, as much as the work we do is so important around safety and keeping the women and children safe, nothing is going to change unless we look at the whole picture,” says Shorr.

Taking steps towards lasting change

While the goal of Safe at Home is to ensure the abused are safe in the comfort of their own home, it also provides support to change the mentality and behaviours of the perpetrator by relocating them to a rehabilitation facility. 

“People don’t choose to be abusive.”

Chris Tulloch, chair of the board for the Rowan House Society

This support for the abuser is intended to address the long-term problem revolving around how abusers often reignite their violent tendencies – as they move on to create new victims.

“The expectation is that we’re going to break that cycle of abuse,” Shorr says.

That prediction comes from the hope that, as Shorr explains, “the man is going to make different choices when he’s placed in a situation, whether he’s back with his regular family, or whether he’s moved on.”

But in almost every single case, an abuser was abused previously in their lives, so by addressing these deep-rooted issues, they can get rid of lingering demons.

The living room of a rehabilitation centre that Safe at Home has created for domestic abusers, to keep families in their homes and get the abuser the help they need. PHOTO COURTESY OF: ROWAN HOUSE SOCIETY.

“One of the things that we were trying to do is make sure that they have the support so that they can heal from whatever trauma has caused them to become abusive,” Tulloch says. “People don’t choose to be abusive.”

After a challenging five years, they have completed their final stretch with real world implementation of their program. With support from the federal government, the hope is that if the project is successful, it will be easily replicated elsewhere.

As of now, Safe at Home seeks to prioritize southern Alberta, specifically the Foothills region ranging from Claresholm towards Vulcan. However, that does not necessarily mean they will not help outside of that.

“The boundaries are very, very blurred as well,” Tulloch says.

In the future, the non-profit organization strives to inspire those around the province, the country and all around the world with their program.

The federal government hopes that they can get a blueprint from the Safe at Home initiative, so they can implement it in other regions as well.

“It doesn’t happen in my backyard,” Shorr says. “But the reality is, it happens everywhere to anybody.”