After a busy summer and fall, there are more empty beds at the women’s shelter in Red Deer — but that’s only because H1N1 flu has hit the facility where women and children go to escape domestic violence.
“We’re only admitting women with significant risk issues because we’ve already got the flu in the shelter,” said Ian Wheeliker executive director at Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter Society.
He said only half of the 36 beds are in use and about 50 per cent of clients have the flu.
“We’re not turning away women that are in risk. What we’re doing is working with other area shelters in Rocky and Camrose,” Wheeliker said on Friday at Red Deer City Hall, where Mayor Morris Flewwelling proclaimed November as Family Violence Prevention Month.
A public health nurse visits the Red Deer shelter every two weeks and on Monday vaccinated clients and staff.
Last summer, which is usually a busy time for the Red Deer shelter, most of the beds were in use.
“Last year, we had 718 women and children come through the shelter and in 2009 it looks like there’s going to be even more than that.”
Wheeliker said the increase is likely due to economic stress on families.
“Stressors don’t cause domestic violence but it usually intensifies domestic violence.”
About 25 per cent of clients have been exposed to physical violence, a trend that has remained steady in recent years.
“Most of our clients are coming in because they’ve been exposed to emotional and verbal violence and threats of physical violence or death threats.”
The majority of women who seek shelter are aged 18 to 27 with young children.
Red Deer City RCMP’s domestic violence unit investigates about 150 files per month, up from 60 to 80 files three years ago when the unit was formed.
Wheeliker said about six months ago, agencies started to notice more women moving to Red Deer from the rural area specifically so they could access domestic violence programs, including the RCMP.
“The smaller detachments in the rural area don’t have the resources to have dedicated domestic violence unit members.”