Reduced bus service since the shutdown of Greyhound in Western Canada means it is more difficult for rural women escaping abuse.
It’s an assessment the operator of Rocky Mountain House’s shelter confirms.
Corrie McKilligan, operations manager of crisis intervention at the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, said 50 to 60 per cent of clients come from rural areas and First Nations, and fewer are now able to flee.
“A lot of times, they’re put more at risk because there’s no way to get here,” said McKilligan about access to the 40-bed shelter.
“We, as an agency, have a very small budget to support client transportation. We do advocate for social services emergency transportation dollars, but again, they’re not always able to help.”
Six months ago, Greyhound Canada shut down most of its service in Western Canada and northern Ontario.
Services that have stepped in say they aren’t close to matching what Greyhound offered before it decided to abandon what it says was a money-losing business.
McKilligan said buses aren’t ideal, but they are a more affordable option to help women and children.
Cindy Easton, executive director of the Mountain Rose Women’s Shelter in Rocky Mountain House, said Greyhound did not serve the community. Rural communities have faced transportation challenges for years, she added.
“We were very fortunate to receive a grant to buy a company vehicle and we transport to Red Deer,” said Easton of the vehicle purchased about four years ago.
But she said vehicle costs such as maintenance, insurance and fuel are an ongoing expense for the shelter.
She said almost daily trips are made because a lot of the medical, court and sexual assault support services that clients need are in Red Deer.
Often, clients will leave Rocky Mountain House for Red Deer or another city where they can access the wrap-around services they need, said Easton.
“That’s a challenge because they’re leaving all their informal support networks. They are leaving family and friends. You don’t think about that whole social network,” Easton said.
She said donations of gas cards have helped clients with access to vehicles stay in the community.
Mountain Rose Women’s Shelter is a 10-bed facility, but it will be opening a new 21-bed emergency shelter and five second-stage apartments in the fall.
About 400 to 500 individuals or families access the agency’s programs annually.
— With files from The Canadian Press