A safe place to start over

They are two women who are moving forward, leaving behind domestic violence and abuse, thanks to the only second-stage housing facility in Red Deer, known as Julietta’s Place.

They are two women who are moving forward, leaving behind domestic violence and abuse, thanks to the only second-stage housing facility in Red Deer, known as Julietta’s Place.

Molly and Lily — not their real names — are dissimilar in ages and experiences. But in common, sadly, they both have suffered domestic violence, and some of the often accompanying other forms of abuse — financial, sexual, emotional and psychological.

As Lily points out, it’s not just violence. “Most people just think it’s about hitting.”

When people don’t see the physical violence, they don’t recognize it as bad. It’s harder to prove things like the controlling and emotional abuse, she says.

Both women have resided at Julietta’s Place — a special housing project established by the Women’s Outreach in 2010. Women often end up at Julietta’s Place after their time at the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter runs out.

Julietta’s Place has 10 suites where women can stay for up to 18 months. There are suites of different sizes, from one-bedroom to three-bedroom units, to accommodate women with children.

The building is secure, and there are two staff at the facility to provide one-on-one support. Women are able to attend support and other programs to help them get on with their lives, and eventually into permanent housing. They pay rent ranging from $575 to $775, including utilities.

There is no lack of demand for this type of housing in Red Deer, or the rest of the province.

The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters’ latest report said women are having to stay in emergency shelters longer across the province.

“The numbers of women and their children who could not be accommodated by shelters is at an all-time high. Gradually increasing turn-away numbers over the last two years reflects increasing levels of need and a lack of shelter capacity across the province,” said the report.

“When survivors of abuse are staying in shelter longer, there are fewer beds available. Survivors are staying longer because of a lack of second-stage (housing), coupled with a lack of safe and healthy housing in the community.”

The report, which covers the period from April 1, 2013, to March 31, 2014, also states that of the 5,710 women who were admitted by shelters, 4,371 cited seeking safety from abuse as the main reason for contacting a shelter.

According to Justice Canada (2012 statistics), family violence costs Canadians $7.4 billion every year, taking into account costs ranging from policing and health care to funerals and lost wages.

Fortunately for Molly and Lily, who agreed to speak with me, they were each able to live in the second-stage housing in Red Deer. It has offered them safe, secure housing and a supportive network, including things like income support and the help of outreach workers.

The second-stage housing in Red Deer is in high demand, and is not even the higher-security housing that local groups would like to see in Red Deer.

Lily, who has struggled with legal issues and costs, and the controlling behaviour of a former boyfriend, praises the help she’s received at Julietta’s Place.

“People I’ve been in contact with have been extremely supportive.”

In one of her relationships, she ended up suffering a serious act of violence. Even when police arrived after being called by a bystander, she denied anything had happened. “I was in denial.”

“I’m quite positive now. I’ve got my head on straight a lot more.”

However, both women admit that the domestic abuse they suffered may mean they will always have trust issues with other people.

Both say that the big money made in the oilpatch, and long periods of time away from home can lead to alcohol and drug abuse by the people who work in it, and high stress at home.

Molly suffered a series of traumatic events, from her childhood, a bad marriage and later.

Eventually, she hit a crisis point and ended up in touch with Women’s Outreach, and then at Julietta’s Place.

In her marriage, “The violence was so extreme that he was planning to kill me.

“We left with our lives and one suitcase.”

When she hears about domestic violence now, “I think about the desperation of women, especially when there’s children, not knowing what will happen and the fear that it will be worse if you leave because there’s no pretending anymore.

“It’s not over once you’re gone, out of the situation.”

She’s getting her life back on track.

And she’s moving away from the thought of resolving her pain through suicide.

Julietta’s Place is a wonderful resource, she says.

And to others who face similar struggles, she makes this point: “Make sure you reach out and get help. It doesn’t get better on its own. I call it the crazy hope.”

Ian Wheeliker, executive director of the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, said the average stay in the shelter five years ago was 11 days. Now it’s 22 to 24 days, and there is very little affordable housing available for women who need it.

Some of the women at the shelter do end up at Julietta’s Place, which runs at capacity regularly.

A local group made up of several agencies — including the shelter, Women’s Outreach, Canadian Mental Health Association and others — is trying to get funding for affordable housing for people with a variety of needs.

Within that is the hope of establishing a 35-bed high-security second-stage facility. It would cost about $9 million.

There is a provincial effort to gather data that shows women and children escaping domestic violence are much more successful with getting on with their lives when they have second-stage housing.

Wheeliker says that raising money to build a facility is one thing, but having operating funds from government to keep it running is critical.