New Brunswick

Domestic violence shelters 'doing our best' to keep victims safe during COVID-19

A shortage of supplies is one of many concerns piling up for New Brunswick’s shelters and second-stage housing for women and children escaping domestic violence, as the province deals with COVID-19.

Shelters want victims of violence to know their services are still available, despite the challenges

New Brunswick shelters and second-stage housing for women and children escaping domestic violence say they're doing their best to support clients during the COVID-19 outbreak. (Shutterstock)

Patty Michaud has driven all over Miramichi, hunting for Lysol wipes and coming up empty.

The executive director of the Miramichi Emergency Centre for Women has made sure the transition house has lots of cleaning supplies to protect its residents from getting sick.

But without wipes to hand out to women and their children, they've been soaking paper towel in cleaning solution and handing that out as a makeshift solution.

"Our biggest concerns are being able to work safely without putting anyone in danger," Michaud said.

While her centre isn't accepting donations due to the virus, Michaud said they will accept donations of sanitizing supplies such as hand sanitizer and wipes.

A shortage of supplies is one of many concerns piling up for New Brunswick's shelters and second-stage housing for women and children escaping domestic violence, as the province deals with COVID-19.

On top of making sure they have enough supplies, transition houses are dealing with the prospect of losing donations from businesses, cancelling crucial fundraisers, changing staff schedules to make sure facilities can stay open and, above all, keeping staff and residents healthy.

Outside their walls, they know some people could be forced to self-isolate with an abusive partner.

It means Michaud and her counterparts across the province haven't gotten much sleep lately.

"We're just doing our best," Michaud said.

'We are still open'

Normally, the Miramichi Emergency Centre for women has 12 beds. But the centre has temporarily reduced its capacity so there won't be more than 10 people together at once.

If they reach capacity, Michaud said her staff would try to find some other way to help a woman who is looking for help. 

"We don't want people on top of each other and risking them getting sick," Michaud said.

"The primary message that we want to make clear to everyone across the province is that we are still open, we are doing the best we can to serve the persons who are victims of violence," said Catherine Roy Comeau, the co-ordinator of Réseau des services pour victimes de violence du Nouveau-Brunswick, the French-language network of transition houses.

The organization also works closely with the NB South Central Transition House & Second Stage Coalition, which represents the English-language network.

Roy Comeau said her members have been expressing concerns about supplies, resources and how to staff their facilities, especially if employees start getting sick.

If a resident gets sick, they would need to isolate themselves to a room or area of the facility, Roy Comeau said.

"But I also heard from certain members as well that it is a stress," she said.

"If they maybe want to keep someone in their room, it could be difficult when we're talking about the bathrooms because usually there [isn't a] bathroom connected to all rooms."

Residents are stressed too, dealing with self-isolation and for some, the postponement of matters in court.

'It's a prison'

With everyone in the province told to stay at home, victims of domestic violence could face even more danger, isolated at home with a perpetrator who may no longer be going to work.

"We see a lot of people talking right now about the pandemic and how we're really fortunate that we have homes to be in and that we have the basic necessities of life," Kristal LeBlanc, executive director at the Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre in Shediac, said in an interview with Information Morning Moncton earlier this week.

"But for victims, it's a prison."

LeBlanc said her centre's crisis line remains open 24-7, even as staff are trying to limit physical contact with people.

For people who feel unsafe with a partner at home, LeBlanc encouraged them to try to find a safe space in their home to call or send a text to their local domestic violence shelter.

"We'll then have an analysis and look at what is your danger and what is your risk of homicide," LeBlanc said.

"Of course, if you're in immediate danger, we always want you to call police."

Back at the Miramichi Emergency Centre for Women, Michaud sees one bright spot in the pandemic: the work of her staff. She said they've gone above and beyond, and she wishes she could pay them more.

"They're actually putting themselves in jeopardy because they're concerned for their own families, but they're coming in here because that's their call to duty," Michaud said.