Alberta economic woes drive up to 40% increase in domestic violence calls

Alberta's troubled economy is putting women in danger, domestic violence workers warn — with one Calgary support group saying calls have spiked by 40 per cent this year.

Calls for help have climbed 40% in the past year in Calgary, according to one agency

Andrea Silverstone, co-chair of the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective, says job loss has made some homes more violent. (CBC)

Alberta's troubled economy is putting women in danger, domestic violence workers warn — with one Calgary support group saying calls have spiked by 40 per cent this year.

Abuse victims say layoffs and job hunting have ratcheted up stress in some homes, according to the domestic violence workers.

Andrea Silverstone, co-chair of the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective, says calls to the agency she runs — Peer Support Services for Abused Women — have gone up by 40 per cent.

Laura Ducharme, with the support group Homefront, says in the past six months it too, has seen a spike in calls.

The agencies simply don't have the resources to support the rising numbers, Silverstone told CBC News.

"The staffing here hasn't gone up by 40 per cent, our budget hasn't gone up by 40 per cent, and so as much as we can try to accommodate that, you know, we still have to deal with the reality of waiting lists," Silverstone said.

She says that, overall, agencies are struggling to keep up with an influx of calls that she estimates have climbed by an average of 25 per cent in the city.

The last time she saw domestic violence rates spike was just after the 2013 flood, Silverstone says.

"In many ways, domestic violence is the canary in the coal mine — it's what gets worst first."

The problem is even worse in homes that have already experienced domestic violence, she says.

"Whereas before the abuser might have been at work during the day" now they're home, she said. Women feel more monitored and controlled if the partner stays home, she said, making it harder to leave or call for help.

In many ways, domestic violence is the canary in the coal mine. It's what gets worst first.- Andrea Silverstone , Calgary Domestic Violence Collective co-chair

Laura Ducharme with Homefront, another support group, says it has also seen a spike in calls in the past six months.

"The strain of the oil patch is having its effect on families because of the ripple effect, many people being laid off," she said.

Calgary police didn't have updated numbers, but said there has been an increase in reports. In April, for example domestic, non-criminal calls climbed 13 per cent over April 2014. 

Alberta promises more 

Silverstone said she is pleased the new provincial government has promised to boost funding for addressing family violence. However, she added, she would like to see more Calgarians volunteer to help.

Minister of Human Services Irfan Sabir says the NDP government is moving on the issue.

"We know that more needs to be done to address family violence, and our government is taking action to address this tragic issue," the minister said in an email to CBC News.

"In September, we announced a new investment of $15 million annually to provide much needed supports, including help in accessing available provincial programs and services and specialized child and youth counselling.

"We are also investing $15 million to support Family and Community Safety Program grants, which focus on prevention by addressing the root causes of violence."

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