Gender violence country-wide

Shuswap: Many suggestions for reducing system inadequacies.

Canada is a country of many characteristics – and, unfortunately, one common issue is gender violence.

On one day last year, a pan-Canadian survey, Canada’s First National Data Count, was conducted to provide insight into a typical day at women’s shelters and transition houses across the country.

The picture across Canada, across B.C. and in Salmon Arm is similar. On the one day, 242 sheltering organizations across Canada who responded helped 4,178 women and 2,490 children. On the same day, 286 women and 205 children could not be accommodated.

In B.C., 470 women and 148 youth and children received care in shelters and supported housing. On the same day, more than 22 B.C. women and 10 children were still waiting for services. The actual number is higher because 63 per cent of transition housing programs in B.C. did not participate.

Jane Shirley, executive director of the Shuswap Area Family Emergency (SAFE) Society,  provides statistics for the Salmon Arm women’s emergency shelter from Jan. 1 to March 10, 2014.

In January, 15 women and seven children were in residence. In February, it was 18 women and 10 children. During the first 10 days of March, eight women and two children stayed.

As well, crisis calls the shelter responded to totalled 132. There were also 82 office support sessions.

“Everybody’s running over capacity, such as we are, and there are very complex cases,” Shirley said.

Top issues for and suggestions from shelter workers from the survey regarding gender violence are also similar across Canada.

For Shirley, the justice system and its consequences for crime are a problem. She points to the different court systems – criminal court and family court – that victims must navigate, as well as crowded court lists and rotating judges.

“It’s around education and awareness within the whole system,” she says, adding there is not a lot of training available to judges.

She said domestic violence must be approached from a wholistic perspective, which having a domestic violence team like larger centres do can achieve – a team that Salmon Arm doesn’t have.

“Everyone has to work together – I think that’s critical.”

Shirley said safe, supported housing is crucial yet lacking in Salmon Arm, as is addictions support.

“One of the SAFE Society’s long-term goals is to build second-stage housing. We’re just not there yet because it costs money,” she says, adding the society is grateful for all the support it receives from the community.

Second-stage housing generally allows people to stay for up to two years and offers the help of a support person who specializes in domestic violence and addictions.

Shirley says help for abusers is also lacking.

“That can be male or female. There are not a lot of services for people who want to change or are having trouble,” she says. “Everyone should have support and that’s how the world’s going to change.”

Educating young people in school about what healthy relationships look like, both between teens and between adults, is also crucial.

“That you have a right to be safe and a right to make choices,” she explains.

If you have a friend or family member who is having trouble, Shirley encourages them to call for help, 250-832-9616. The majority who call or come to the shelter are from the Shuswap.

“It’s local people helping local people.”