Women's shelters once again fill up, as police lay more domestic violence charges

Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region says its shelters are once again filling up, a good sign that victims of domestic violence are once again able to reach out for help. Meanwhile, Waterloo regional police say officers laid 28 per cent more domestic violence charges in June compared to the same period last year.

After a lull from the pandemic, more women now reaching out for help

Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region says fewer women sought shelter during the early stages of the pandemic. (Julie Ireton/CBC)

Two local women's shelters are once again nearing capacity — and the manager in charge says that's a good thing.

Merle Fast is the residential program manager for Anselma House in Kitchener and Haven House in Cambridge, which are both operated by Women's Crisis Services Services of Waterloo Region.

For about a month during the pandemic, Fast said the two shelters were running at about half capacity. That's unusual, she said, given that pre-pandemic they were often full.

The quiet phone lines had them worried. 

"Our hypothesis is that when COVID-19 hit, everybody was at home, and so women were not ever alone and were not ever able to call [for help]," said Fast.

Now, Fast said there are 36 people staying at Haven House and 40 at Anselma House. The shelters can each accommodate about 40 to 45 people.

Fast thinks that as the region has reopened, women have found more free moments in their day to call for help.

"I'm really glad that the numbers are going up," she said.

"The reality is we strongly believe that violence didn't go away, and now again people feel safe enough they can reach out to us."

New chat service available

Merle Fast is the residential program manager at Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region. (Submitted by Merle Fast)

A new chat service available on the Women's Crisis Services website has also helped, Fast said.

The service was launched at the end of May, and gives women another way to reach out for help if they aren't able to speak out loud.

"There's two women who came in after chatting with us who said, 'If you didn't have the chat, I would be dead now,'" said Fast.

"So [the chat] just allowed more people to contact us, and ask for help."

Waterloo regional police say officers laid 28 per cent more domestic violence-related charges in June this year, compared to the same month in 2019.

In a statement, Const. Ashley Dietrich told CBC News the uptick is "concerning," but that police don't know if COVID-19 was a factor.

"We want to remind the community to look out for one another," Dietrich said. "If you see or hear something, we urge you to say something."

Fast said anyone experiencing intimate partner violence should contact Women's Crisis Services — by phone, or by chat.

"We will find a way to make sure you're safe," she said.

To contact Women's Crisis Services in Kitchener-Waterloo, call 519-742-5894. In Cambridge, call 519-653-2422.

If you are in danger, call 911.