A hospital worker is seen at a staff COVID-19 assessment area outside Lions Gate hospital in North Vancouver on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Domestic violence shelters adapt as COVID-19 forces families home

Anyone in immediate danger — or afraid someone else is — should call 911

Women’s shelters are adjusting to ensure they can help anyone experiencing domestic violence as the COVID-19 pandemic forces families to stay home together, worsens economic hardship and upsets routines.

“We are faced with definitely a very complicated and unprecedented situation,” said Marlene Ham, executive director of the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, which represents more than 70 shelters in the province.

“We know home is not safe for many women and that is the location in which women are experiencing the most harassment, violence and, in certain circumstances, mortality.”

Shelters have been directed to have screening plans. Ham said services are still running 24 hours a day and she’s not aware of any shelters in Ontario closing.

Some shelters are providing outreach over the phone or online rather than in person.

“There may be some adaptation to what we do, but certainly we are available to provide the supports that we need to provide at this time.”

Ham is encouraging women who need help to reach out to their local shelter. Contact information for shelters across Canada can be found at Safeshelter.ca.

Anonymous crisis lines are also available to help women formulate safety plans.

Anyone in immediate danger — or afraid someone else is — should call 911.

“If women are experiencing violence in the home — reach out so that we can find some other options,” said Ham.

“We certainly don’t want women to feel that self-isolating at home becomes more important than your physical safety.”

Jan Reimer of the Alberta Council of Women’s shelters said it’s too soon to say whether the pandemic is causing a surge in domestic violence, but she can see how it would contribute.

“We do know that domestic violence is all about power and control, so we can see the potential for abusers to use the virus to further isolate women,” she said.

That could take the form of cutting women off from friends and family or stopping them from getting medical attention.

“For friends and family to continue to reach out to women would be really important,” she added.

Reimer said shelters are overwhelmingly staffed by women, many of whom have had to scramble to find childcare as the virus closed schools and daycares.

Shelters have been leaning on each other to make sure they’re well supplied and provincial funding has helped, said Reimer.

The Alberta government announced Tuesday that $60 million would go toward adult homeless shelters, women’s emergency shelters and the Family and Community Support Services program.

Reimer said anyone who wants to donate to a women’s shelter should give money online instead of dropping off goods.

Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld said in a briefing Wednesday that the force would be watching the effect that COVID-19 is having on domestic crimes.

“We appreciate that people are cooped up and, probably more important than that, a lot of people’s … family habits and stuff that they would normally do have been interrupted,” he said. ”That could certainly have an impact.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 18, 2020

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Body discovered floating in water near Lasqueti Island

JRCC reports fishing vessel personnel made the find on Saturday, Sept. 19

PQBeat: Do you remember your first television set?

Sharing memories of TV shows past and present

COVID-19: New air carrier sought for Qualicum Beach Airport

Island Express Air ends operation due to pandemic

Quirky Canadian comedy ‘Schitt’s Creek’ takes Emmys by storm with comedy sweep

Toronto-raised Daniel Levy and Ottawa-born Annie Murphy both got supporting actor nods

B.C. unveils new cannabis sales programs to help small, Indigenous growers

Government did not say how it will define small producers, but says nurseries will be included in the policy

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Resident Alien returns to Ladysmith for filming in early October

New SyFy series back after spring filming interrupted by COVID-19

Most Read