Women seeking safety run short of options in finding shelter: study

A study assessing the level of danger for Alberta women in abusive relationships points to a need for more transitional housing once they leave shelters.

A study assessing the level of danger for Alberta women in abusive relationships points to a need for more transitional housing once they leave shelters.

“We have been advocating for many years about the need for second-stage housing for women leaving shelter. We’ll continue to do it,” said Jan Reimer, provincial co-ordinator with Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.

The council would like the province to develop a program to fund more housing. Currently, it partially funds just two projects.

Edmonton has 29 second-stage units, Calgary has 67 and Medicine Hat has 10. Wabasca near Fort McMurray and Enilda near Slave Lake also have a few units.

According to the 15-month research project Keep Women Alive released by the council on Monday, women at second-stage housing, where women can stay six months to a year, have experienced increased levels of violence.

Ian Wheeliker, executive director at Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter Society, said Red Deer could use 20 to 30 second-stage housing units. But the community can’t be expected to pay annual operational costs.

“Until the province finds the dollars to fund second-stage we’re kind of in limbo,” Wheeliker said.

Right now the Red Deer shelter must search for the secure housing in other communities for its clients.

“That really is the best option for high-risk women,” Wheeliker said.

For the study, a questionnaire and calendar to recall incidents of abuse were used by 509 women at 10 shelters from Nov. 1 2007 to Jan. 31 2009 to assess the level of danger in their abusive relationship.

The danger assessment is used to develop a safety plan for the woman and her children.

Shelters in Alberta started advocating danger assessment tools after the Josif Fekete killed his estranged wife Blagica and their three-year-old son Alex in Red Deer on Sept. 28, 2003.

“Shelters all around the province were really looking at ways to keep women and children safe after that tragedy,” Reimer said.

The Red Deer shelter, which was not part of the study, has been using the same assessment for four years. Wheeliker said it really helps women.

“For some women they say ‘finally someone believes me. I thought I was crazy, imagining it, but this score kind of validates I’m in serious danger.’”

“Women tend to often minimize as a way of coping with their abuse. A calendar helps them set it down, helps to recall those events,” Reimer said.

Alberta’s incidence of domestic violence is among the highest in Canada. Between 2000 and 2006 a total of 170 deaths from domestic violence were reported. More likely occurred but were unsolved or labeled suspicious.

Wheeliker said the Red Deer area has seen one murder-suicide in the last eight months and two domestic violence murder cases are before the court.

“That is significant. Two of them involved guns,” said Wheeliker said.

In November, Fred and Lily Walker of Red Deer died in a murder-suicide. In February, Debi Volker of Delburne died and her estranged husband Brian Clarence Volker is charged in her murder. Also in February, Teagan Klein was murdered. Brett Donald Jones is charged.

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com

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