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Shelter numbers dip despite domestic violence increase

Masha Scheele

While spousal abuse and family violence related calls have increased in Hinton, admission requests at the Yellowhead Emergency Shelter (YES) have gone down significantly.

“We’re down on our admission requests, which is expected because people would rather stay home where they’re “safe” versus coming here where they don’t know the unknown [due to COVID-19],” said Marj Luger, executive director of YES, about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Between the first week of March to the end of August, admissions dropped by 20 per cent compared to the same time period last year.

Luger likened the lack of admissions to what hospitals saw when the pandemic first started, which was less admissions for heart attacks and strokes.

“They had to put ads out for people if they have a heart attack that they have to go to the hospital. Because they weren’t leaving their homes, they were scared, they didn’t want to catch covid,” Luger said.

At the same time, crisis support calls at YES rose by 10 per cent in the same time period.

Luger added that as time goes on and funding support like Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and Employment Insurance (EI) benefits come to an end, she expects an increase of calls and admissions.

“The stress levels are going to increase in the next little while. So that could equate to a higher number of requests to come in,” Luger said.

Capacity at YES remains cut in half since Alberta Health is recommending nobody share a bathroom and there are only two available for guests at the shelter.

The shelter has five bedrooms and two bathrooms available.

“We can have two families in house, we used to be able to have five families. Two single women and three families but now we’re cut down on our capacity,” Luger said.

This means that the shelter has been full and they’ve even had to turn some people away.

“Our actual turnaways have gone up because we have bedrooms that are closed,” Luger added.

Those individuals or families are referred to other shelters depending on the client and their situation.

YES did receive some federal money that they are utilizing for hotel rooms where families can stay until a bedroom becomes available in the house.

Since the shelter is only licensed for 10 people, they can still only house 10 people including those in hotels. Over the past few months, they haven’t reached that 10 person limit yet.

“We never put a high risk family in a hotel, somebody who is lower risk can go into a hotel,” Luger explained.

Luger expects more admissions once kids are back in school and winter closes everyone in their homes. YES received federal funding through the Women’s Shelters Canada, which was distributed among shelters in the province, as well as the CRA 10 per cent wage subsidy grant.

“We were not eligible for the grant that came to women’s shelters through the province because of capacity in the past,” Luger added.

The shelter is down on their fundraising by about $30,000 and Luger estimated they will be down by $50,000 by next March.

The shelter normally raises $85,000 annually through various fundraisers that have been missed this year and donations from various local corporations who aren’t able to give at the moment.

“We weren’t able to do our annual garage sale because garage sales weren’t open. We weren’t able to do the West Central Classic Car Club 50/50 this year, and there was no allocation through Hinton United Way this year,” Luger said.

Luger stated that maybe things will turn around and people will give more around Christmas time, but in the meantime she hopes everyone stays safe and knows YES is open 24/7 for anyone that needs help.

A quarterly RCMP report last week stated that spousal abuse and family violence related calls have increased with Hinton RCMP responding to and investigating 137 incidents between April 1 and July 31. That increase equals an approximate 25 per cent increase compared to last year. Hinton RCMP participate as a member of the Domestic Violence Committee, which is organized by the Hinton Friendship Centre.

“We have steadily seen an increase since the pandemic started, this was different in each of the communities we provide services in. We provide domestic violence programming to Hinton, Jasper, Grande Cache and Edson and each have had different increases,” stated Lisa Higgerty from the Friendship Centre.

The committee manages two types of family violence programming and employee therapists across the region in each community. 

Hinton has both programs running currently with face-to-face meetings and zoom and a Domestic Violence group will be starting in the next week. 

“We have definitely seen an increase and have prepared for it,” Higgerty added.

The regional committee has been in existence since about 2005 and shares information between members about how things are going from a community perspective. 

The group has worked and implemented a protocol on how domestic violence disclosures should be handled in coordination with many different agencies. 

“We are both intervention and prevention driven. We try to host a domestic violence conference every second year. The topic varies depending on the needs of our region,” stated Higgerty.

There are about 40 to 50 members across the region that participate in the direction of the committee. 

For information on the committee, reach out to 780-865-5189 or reach out by calling 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, or the Family Violence Information Line (310-1818) for support in more than 170 languages.

YES can be reached 24/7 via Facebook or telephone at 780-865-4359.