Shelter stretched to limit

Fewer battered women stayed at the Red Deer women’s shelter this year — but that’s not good news — because more abused women had to be turned away.

Fewer battered women stayed at the Red Deer women’s shelter this year — but that’s not good news — because more abused women had to be turned away.

The 550 women and children who stayed at the 40-bed Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter in the first 11 months of 2010 stayed longer — perhaps because they were deemed to be at “extreme or severe levels of danger,” said executive-director Ian Wheeliker.

He can’t say, without doing more analysis, why danger levels were higher.

But Wheeliker said a weak economy and more unemployment tends to cause more stress on families.

At the same time, these very factors are straining fundraising efforts by non-profit groups. The Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter is about $50,000 short of where it was at this time last year, said Wheeliker, who believes the economy is to blame.

He added, “We really are hoping the community will rally around and help . . . We could use the support. Even donations of $5 or $10 would help.”

According to Wheeliker, the average stay at the shelter was 20 days this year, compared to 11 days in 2009, so there was less room for new admissions.

Some 281 women and children were turned away and given other options.

For instance, Wheeliker said they could return home if the abuser was away and the danger assessment was considered low, get put up in a hotel for a few days by Social Services, or travel to shelters in Camrose or Rocky Mountain House if space allowed.

The overall occupancy rate at the Red Deer shelter was at 85 per cent this year.

While this seems low, Wheeliker said it actually means that a woman and her two children might take up three beds of five that are available in a bedroom. It wouldn’t be practical for privacy reasons to fill the other two beds with another family. “All 14 of our bedrooms might be full, even if there’s room in some of the beds,” he added.

If the domestic violence problem doesn’t seem to be declining in Central Alberta, Wheeliker believes it’s because roughly 65 per cent of cases do not make it through the criminal justice system.

If police aren’t involved, abusers tend not to be held accountable, and their children don’t get the counselling they need to break the cycle of abuse, he said. “Everyone should be reporting these cases,” added Wheeliker — otherwise children who witness domestic violence will grow up to be abusers or victims of abuse themselves.

To help with fundraising, volunteers are gift wrapping at the Bower Place Shopping Centre through Christmas Eve in hopes of making an additional $10,000 for the shelter, which also provides a 24-hour crisis line for domestic violence victims and their families.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com