North

YWCA director concerned after family violence shelter use drops to zero amid pandemic

The YWCA NWT's executive director says that use of family violence shelters in the territory has dropped to a standstill amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leading her to worry about the health and safety of women experiencing domestic violence.

Lyda Fuller says that Yellowknife's family violence shelter saw no clients in the month of April

Lyda Fuller is the executive director of the YWCA NWT, which operates two emergency shelters in the N.W.T. Those shelters, and others across the territory, have seen virtually zero clients since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Avery Zingel/CBC)

The YWCA NWT's executive director says that use of family violence shelters in the territory has dropped to a standstill amid the COVID-19 pandemic, leading her to worry about the health and safety of women experiencing domestic violence.

"Here in Yellowknife, we had no clients at all for the month of April," said Lyda Fuller. "And it's still empty ... And that's very, very unusual. I can't remember a month when we had no clients before."

YWCA NWT is in charge of two shelters, in Yellowknife and Fort Smith. Fuller said that she is concerned that prospective clients may not realize shelters are open, leading them to stay home in potentially dangerous situations.

Other shelters in the territory, she said, didn't have any phone calls last month. CBC News has contacted shelters in several communities for comment, and has yet to hear back.

"Not only [is] no-one in the shelter, but even no phone calls. Which is what led me to wonder whether [they thought] shelters might be closed. And they are not."

The dramatic decrease is of particular concern in the Northwest Territories, where rates of domestic violence are among the highest in the country. Fuller worries that isolation orders during the pandemic may amplify the trend, leaving people feeling as if they have no escape.

We want to get the word out, that the shelters are open, and they are safe.- Lyda Fuller, NWT YWCA executive director

"We have high rates of violence in the territory — in all three territories. We know that hasn't ended with the pandemic," she said. 

"I think it's probably increased that. The ability to go other places and ask for help from other people is sort of gone at the moment."

The dramatic decrease in usage is something that Fuller says she's never seen in her 23 years of involvement with the YWCA. She reiterated the message that shelters are open, with several precautions in place to keep women in need of their services safe from the pandemic. 

"We take lots of precautions," she said, noting that if clients were in the shelter, they'd be spaced apart, not eating communal meals, and given assigned washrooms. Community visits have also been prohibited in order to keep the risk of exposure as low as possible.

"We want to get the word out, that the shelters are open, and they are safe."

Written by Garrett Hinchey, based on an interview by Loren McGinnis

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