Saskatchewan

Domestic violence shelters brace for increased demand, supply shortages amid COVID-19 pandemic

Domestic violence shelter operators say they are facing pressure from all sides during the COVID-19 pandemic with the risk that self-isolation conditions might lead to increased incidents of domestic violence in the community, along with a shortage of protective supplies for front-line workers.

Shelter operators worry self-isolation could lead to higher domestic violence rates

'People being isolated means they're spending much more time together, and being laid off work or reducing regular activities creates a general overall feeling of anxiety,' says Cora Sellers, the senior director of women's housing at YWCA Regina. 'And we feel this could contribute to tension in the household and incidents of domestic violence.' (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Domestic violence shelter operators say they are facing pressure from all sides during the COVID-19 pandemic with the risk that self-isolation conditions might lead to increased incidents of domestic violence in the community, along with a shortage of protective supplies for front-line workers.

"People being isolated means they're spending much more time together, and being laid off work or reducing regular activities creates a general overall feeling of anxiety," said Cora Sellers, the senior director of women's housing at YWCA Regina. "And we feel this could contribute to tension in the household and incidents of domestic violence."

Tmira Marchment, the executive director of SOFIA House, also thinks an increase in domestic violence at this time could exacerbate pre-existing challenges in the shelter system. SOFIA house, which provides long-term housing to people moving out of crisis shelters, could not always keep up with demand even before COVID-19.

"We have only 10 places at SOFIA House, so we're almost always full," she said.

"So already, people are not able to move out of crisis shelters in a timely manner because there's nowhere else to go. And that bottleneck is just going to get worse if incidents of domestic violence increase, which we're worried about as people are in self-isolation or trying to stay home more and other services are disrupted."

Tmira Marchment, executive director of Sofia House, worries about keeping up with demand given that the shelter is already 'almost always full'. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

The YWCA and Regina Transition House have both created self-isolation rooms to be used for clients who may be showing symptoms of COVID-19. Shelters are also limiting visitor access, cancelling outreach programs and increasing cleaning practices to reduce the risk of virus transmission for clients, volunteers and staff.

Shelters low on safety supplies

As front-line workers, shelter staff need protective equipment and cleaning supplies to keep themselves and their clients safe. While SOFIA House is currently closed to most physical donations in an effort to avoid unnecessary contact with the public, they are accepting masks, gloves, soap and hand sanitizer.

"It's really important we have the equipment to protect ourselves and our clients from germs, so masks would be very much appreciated if anyone in the community has extras," said Stephanie Taylor, the executive director of Regina Transition House.

The shelter remains open to donations left on the doorstep, though they ask that donors call ahead to arrange a time for drop-off.

Many shelters have placed restrictions on how you can donate items, but YWCA Senior Director of Women's Housing Cora Sellers says financial support is very welcome at this time. (CBC News/Tyler Pidlubny)

Sellers said while the YWCA is also closed to physical donations, they would appreciate financial help, noting possible staffing challenges as people self-quarantine or self-isolate.

Despite COVID-19 concerns, don't wait to seek help

Taylor says people in violent situations shouldn't wait to reach out until the pandemic is over because help is still available.

"We worry that people might delay leaving a violent or abusive situation at this time due to concerns about coming into a shelter environment, or due to concerns about their own health status," she said.

"We want people to reach out if they're able, and we will do what we can to help. Even if they're not certain about coming into a shelter at this time, we might be able to do safety planning and risk assessment over the phone."

If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. In Saskatchewan, www.pathssk.org has listings of available services across the province.

About the Author

Julia Peterson is a Saskatoon-based journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. She has a passion for arts journalism, science reporting, and social justice movements. Story ideas? Email julia.peterson@cbc.ca.

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