Nfld. & Labrador

No need to fear COVID if you are being abused during pandemic, Iris Kirby House director says

The executive director of Iris Kirby House in St. John's says while numbers at the shelter are down, it's still safe and clean during the COVID-19 pandemic.

'You are not going to have any increased risk of getting COVID-19,' says Michelle Greene

Michelle Greene, executive director of Iris Kirby House, says transition houses across the province have rooms available and protocols in place to protect against the spread of COVID-19. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

The executive director of a women's shelter in St. John's is urging those experiencing abuse and violence to reach out for help, even though fear and anxiety in the COVID-19 pandemic may be holding people back. 

Michelle Greene says fewer people are coming to the Iris Kirby House shelter because of the pandemic.

She said admissions were down by a third in April, despite getting the same number of distress calls.

"We are concerned that our numbers are down because we know people are experiencing abuse, probably at higher levels, but people are afraid to reach out.… We know that people are still calling when they can, but they're not coming in," she said. 

"We want to let people know that it is safe. All the transition houses in the province have very safe protocols in place, and we have capacity."

No increased risk of COVID-19

Greene said safety and sanitizing practices are in place at Iris Kirby House, at O'Shaughnessy House in Carbonear, and at other transition houses across the province. 

"You are not going to have any increased risk of getting COVID-19 coming to a transition house than you will if you're living in your own house and doing your regular duties," she said.

"The likelihood of contracting COVID is far [less], probably, than the abuse you're suffering at home."

For those who do choose to contact Iris Kirby House, Greene said the shelter has seven units to allow people to self-isolate for the required 14 days.

"You have your own apartment — it's a bedroom with a kitchenette and a bathroom, similar to a bachelor apartment or a small hotel room, and you can stay there for two weeks, and then you can move into the general population at the shelter," she said.

Greene said all the women at the shelter now have gone through the 14-day self-isolation period. Staff take them out for essential items, or to go for walks outdoors, but she said staff are making sure that proper physical distancing rules are followed.

If you're afraid to come because of COVID, let us tell you what it looks like, don't make the assumption that you know.- Michelle Greene

Ultimately, choosing to go to a transition house is a personal decision, Greene said, but there is room at shelters across the province, and distance counselling and phone interventions are available if someone isn't ready to make the move to a shelter.

"Make your own individual choice, call us, discuss your options, email us if you can't call.… It's our job to keep people safe, and we're really good at it. When it comes to domestic violence, you don't have to stay home. You can make a choice too and if you don't feel safe, you can call to find out what resources are available," said Greene.

"But if you're afraid to come because of COVID, let us tell you what it looks like, don't make the assumption that you know."

If you or someone you know is being abused, Iris Kirby House's 24-hour crisis line is 709-753-1492, or toll-free 1-877-753-1492.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Here & Now

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