The most dangerous day of the year for domestic violence is fast approaching, and Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter staff are already helping more clients than ever.
Year-end statistics for the shelter show a startling 198 per cent jump in outreach clients since 2015, and a nearly 40 per cent increase in shelter admissions over the same period.
“Our shelter is very full. Every day, we have a waiting list,” said the shelter’s executive director, Rayann Toner.
This could contribute to the sharp increase in female clients who are receiving help in the community, she said.
These are women who have either left their abusive partners and are living on their own, or who are trying to manage an abusive situation with support from shelter staff without leaving their homes.
Toner admits a shelter environment, where women often have to share rooms, isn’t a “good fit” for everybody.
“But we also have a lot of challenges in the community,” she added, noting shelter staff are dealing with more issues of homelessness, addictions, mental health problems and housing and employment challenges during this economic downturn.
“We work with women wherever they are in their journey. We walk alongside them,” giving support where needed, Toner added.
The 40-bed local shelter, which is making plans for a future expansion, could see another spike in usage on Jan. 1.
A University of Calgary study has found New Year’s Day is the worst day of the year when it comes to domestic strife.
A report from the university’s School of Public Policy found that during the holiday period in Calgary, an average of 10 to 12 domestic violence incidents were reported to police. That number rose dramatically to 45 incidents on average on New Year’s Day, prompting the study’s co-author to wonder how many other incidents are going unreported.
Toner said domestic violence is a concern all year round, but she prepares for a steep increase around the holiday season — particularly the beginning of the new year.
“There are a lot of expectations,” she said, and when combined with financial stress, winter cold, and a slowed Alberta economy, “things can reach a boiling point.”
Anyone in trouble can call the 24-hour crisis line at (403) 346-5643 or 1-888-346-5643.
About 450 women used the shelter in 2018 — about the same number as in 2017, but significantly more than the 230 women in 2015. This year’s number of child clients, about 175, is a slight decrease from last year.
It appears more mothers and children are choosing to remain in the community with help from outreach staff. The shelter’s outreach client total was 792 women and children this year — a steep rise from 507 outreach clients in 2017 and 266 in 2015.
Toner said shelter expansion plans are at a very preliminary stage and no numbers — in terms of cost, timeline or additional beds — have yet been confirmed. “We’re being very careful and looking at all of our options.”
She’s thanking the community for an outpouring of generosity during the holidays season: “All the donations are used to help women and children.”
Those still wanting to make contributions can consider gifting shampoo and other hygiene products, which are always needed at the shelter — as are cash, grocery gift cards, or bus tickets for women who are leaving the shelter and starting anew.
Central Albertans can also get Christmas presents wrapped as a fundraiser for the shelter at the It’s a Wrap booth at Bower Place mall.