Emergency women's shelters ready for what can be unsafe time

While many people are taking time off at Christmas, women's shelter workers are ready to take calls day or night, knowing the stress of the holidays can make some homes unsafe.

Holiday stress can 'escalate' intimate partner violence

A government of New Brunswick graphic about intimate partner violence. (gnb.ca)

While many people are taking time off at Christmas, women's shelter workers are ready to take calls day or night, knowing the stress of the holidays can make some homes unsafe.

Women in Transition House and Gignoo Transition House, which offer shelter for women fleeing domestic and intimate partner violence, will take calls throughout the holidays.

"Please reach out, and if it's not to us just reach out to someone," said Jan Smith, executive director of Women in Transition House.

"People know that we're here and they know that we are a safe place, and we want to create that soft place for someone to land if they are feeling uncomfortable, threatened, unsafe."

Moms have to learn to trust their gut and when they know that they are unsafe or their children could be unsafe.- Jan Smith, executive director, Women in Transition House

It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but Smith and Gignoo House crisis counsellor Christa Matthews both said there is a possibility of more domestic violence during the holidays.

"Not just before Christmas but just after Christmas that, you know, situations can escalate just due to social pressures and financial pressures," Smith said.

"And sometimes we see an increase of violent outbursts around this time of year."

Transition houses are not homeless shelters, Smith and Matthews said. They provide emergency housing for women and children for a short period of time, sometimes a week, sometimes two weeks, so women can find their own housing away from their abusers.

Smith said domestic abuse doesn't have to physical. It could be "emotional or financial or psychological," and it doesn't have to be perpetrated by a husband or a boyfriend.

She said it's impossible to predict when a woman will decide to leave an abusive home.

"Moms have to learn to trust their gut and when they know that they are unsafe or their children could be unsafe," she said.

Making the most of Christmas

Gignoo House caters to Indigenous women in particular but can also take in non-Indigenous women and children, said Matthews. Staff try to make the most of Christmas for women and children who can't go to relatives' homes.

"We put up a Christmas tree," she said. "We provide the women with their supper, you know. We provide them with gifts so they're not stressed and wondering where they're going to be able to get the gifts and still have money … to find a place."

On Christmas Day, the women and children all sit around the tree and open presents. Matthews said this is important, especially for the children.

"The children are uprooted already, so they're already going through a tough time because they're not home, right? So we wanted to make it feel as much home as [possible]."

Gignoo House can be reached at 506-458-1224 or 506-458-1236. Women in Transition House can be reached at 506-459-2300.